This response was produced as part of the #CircusVoices scheme for developing critical practice around circus arts.
Review from: Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh Festival Fringe; 14th August 2018
8 Thoughts on 8 Songs
Eight songs. Not a long playlist, but in the hands of Gandini Juggling, eight songs turns into more than just great music!
I’ve never really thought of juggling as being sexy, but maybe I’ve been watching the wrong juggling. Witnessing the six cast members – three women and three men – literally vibrate as though possessed by something outside of themselves, to the words and music of the Rolling Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil, made my own flesh tingle. Watching them move together to the pulsing rhythm, dancing, embracing, playfully and provocatively passing the juggling balls to one another in their teeth, I was also possessed by the moment, the movement, the song. The six become one in a mass of bodies, each performer winding and unwinding from the tangle, but never once losing their focus, or letting their ball slip to the floor.
You will see many multi-ball juggling “tricks” that are very impressive, but object manipulation need not be done with dozens of balls. Sometimes it only takes one ball and many hands. This is aptly demonstrated during David Bowie’s Scary Monsters as the cast uses a single ball to create a complex pattern of movements. While this may seem like a fairly simple task, especially for such a talented group of professional jugglers, there is much to be said for finding and maintaining the rhythm, not only in your own body and the music, but with five other bodies as well. There are many places to make mistakes, but they make it work beautifully.
The quirkiness of the Gandini jugglers is evident in moments throughout, but is most captivating during the first set piece, soundtracked by the Beach Boys’ surf rock tune Good Vibrations. The crowd is swept up in the jubilance of the performers. Good times and happy faces beam from both sides of the stage. The cascading balls joyfully pass from hand-to-hand, person-to-person in amazing synchronicity. Jugglers shimmy and shake, twist and twirl to the music. The audience can’t help but be drawn in by their energy. I can’t help but tap my feet and dance along in my seat to a song I’ve known all of my life. There are a few shaky moments as a member of the group drops a ball on an occasion or two, but any frustration is masked by professionalism and she picks the rhythm back up seamlessly.
I love basketball! No, not really, but I loved the basketball bit in 8 Songs. Chris Patfield’s expert object manipulation skills transform an everyday basketball into a true thing of beauty. This is Patfield’s time to shine. Singled out on the stage, Janis Joplin’s signature croak accompanying him, the rest of the cast and audience are wrapt in his every move. He balances, rolls, and spins the ball first on his foot, then his shin, chest, head, and each of his fingers and thumb. His skill manipulating the ball – while it still spins and as he changes levels, sinking to the floor, rolling, and then returning to his feet – is a sight to see and some of the most captivating work of the show. His finale, spinning the basketball on a wooden dowel is kicked up a notch with the addition of two subsequently smaller balls, all spinning in a precarious and hypnotic stack, receives a raucous round of applause from a very pleased audience.
The juggling work in 8 Songs is beautifully choreographed to songs that most everyone will know and appreciate. The fact that music played such an important role in this show is what drew me to it in the first place. Working with the songs of such musical geniuses as David Bowie, Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys, The Velvet Underground, The Rolling Stones, and Janis Joplin, the show creates a celebration of both music and juggling that should be accessible to music and circus fans alike.
Gender equality and inclusion are often talked about in the progressive circus genres. Often times male performers take centre stage, performing wild feats of strength and acrobatics while female performers take on the role of eye candy. It was refreshing to see a show that highlighted the skills of both the male and female performers equally and often allowed women to take the lead. The costuming was very gender neutral and no one was overly exposed, despite some more intimate moments. During these moments, the women seemed as in control as the men. Only on one occasion, during David Bowie’s Scary Monsters, did I feel as though the female performers were sexualized. During this song two of the women could be seen grinding up against columns in the back of the set. I suppose they could have been possessed by a scary monster, but the whole thing seemed unnecessary.
The show did have me scratching my head at times. A lengthy introduction does not contain any juggling whatsoever as a bossy “Queen of Rock ‘n Roll” insists that her underling repeat back the “Goddess’ desires” about her “iron tongue” and fire-breathing breasts among other things. Was Chris Patfield wearing a goalie’s mask and holding a skull, Hamlet-style, throughout Bob Dylan’s I Want You whilst his cast mates took centre stage? One of the jugglers repeated all of the lyrics to Good Vibrations completely deadpan, in what I think was German, right after the original song ended. In fact the group often repeated lyrics to the songs after they ended, which I didn’t quite get and felt like a bit of a time filler.
If you get the chance, go see this show! It’s for fans of juggling, fans of music, and fans of having a good time!