Gandini Juggling presented the premiere of Spring, the third part of its dance trilogy, on the night Cambridge Junction launched its spring season of events with live music, kids’ entertainment and a mobile pizza oven. The atmosphere inside the 220-seat theatre was buzzing with excited youngsters expecting to see circus skills.
The Gandini troupe, run by Sean Gandini and Kati Yla-Hokkala since 1992, can certainly accomplish expert juggling with balls, clubs and rings, but their prime concern is not to dazzle with virtuoso feats. Instead, they collaborate with other art forms to create something unique. For Spring, they invited Alexander Whitley to combine contemporary dance choreography with juggling routines, set to commissioned music by Gabriel Prokofiev.
The first two parts of the trilogy were 4X4, with ballet-based choreography by Ludovic Ondiviela, ex Royal Ballet, and Sigma, with Bharatanatyam dancer and choreographer Seeta Patel. The jugglers have become exceptionally versatile – and the four dancers in Spring have acquired ball-passing skills, as has Whitley, during his residencies with the Gandini troupe during the past year. He has merged the different disciplines so successfully that there’s relatively little distinction between dancers and jugglers.
The theme of Spring is our perception and enjoyment of colours. A narrator-juggler, Tristan Curty, introduces each section in a strong French accent, telling us which colours we will and won’t see. He plays with the words ‘white’ and ‘black’ with Dominik Harant, a champion juggler, as the team make intricate patterns with monochrome rings and balls, their shadows on the white backdrop multiplying their actions. No sequence lasts for long: rhythmic formation juggling gives way to trios, duets or quartets; Tia Hockey (from Whitley’s own company) tumbles and twists in solos as the others line up in unison. Maybe it’s the same solo, repeated with variations – hard to tell, with so much going on around her.
Prokofiev’s jagged score shifts and changes its time signatures, mostly 5/4 and 7/4, so that it’s never predictable or mesmerising. Although a recorded version was played at the Junction, live musicians will accompany the electronic recording at some venues on tour. When the music falls silent, it’s replaced by whispered counting or chanted instructions. Then syncopated percussive rhythms set the balls and clubs flying again. The dancers rise and fall, gyrating on the floor but never jumping – probably because the surface of venues on tour is likely to be unyielding.
Colours are introduced in the lighting (designed by Guy Hoare) and the juggling implements. Curty announces which colours are to be seen in each section, keeping the brightest combinations for the final one. Magically, rings change colour as the jugglers switch sides, creating a flickering mosaic of contrasting colours and shadows.
A cascade of clubs passing between hands and body parts is too bewildering to follow. The performers’ concentration in this section shuts out any connection with the audience: the challenge is more to test their skill than to impress or entertain us. The sequences don’t build to a climax: they could take place in any order, apart from the pre-ordained colour combinations. There was a false ending after a spectacular spate of flying rings manipulated by Harant, ending with them falling around his neck. But them came a decrescendo, a line-up of all the performers whimsically listing the artificial colours we would not be seeing – very reminiscent of a Pina Bausch parade in which the performers present themselves disarmingly as real people.
Like the children in the audience, I would have appreciated more interjections of humour. Whitley’s intention, however, was to avoid the circus element of juggling in preference for a semi-abstract movement-theatre piece. Spring is still coming together, a work in progress, like the season. After a brief visit to the ArtsDepot in north London on 12 April, it will go on tour around Europe, along with other shows in the Gandini repertoire. Alexander Whitley’s 8 minutes for his own company continues to tour the United Kingdom.