Gandini Juggling's "Smashed2" at PS21 | Theater | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine

Nearly everyone, especially in childhood, tries to juggle, and finds it virtually impossible. Yet professional jugglers make it look effortless—natural as walking. Nine of these pros from the Gandini Juggling troupe will perform "Smashed2" at the Pavilion Theater at PS21 in Chatham on July 12-13.

Unlike circus performers, Gandini Jugglers work in a long form, creating movie-length narratives. "Smashed" debuted in London in 2010. Partially a satire of English society, it drew on the freighted symbols of teapots, teacups, and saucers. Its stylized movements and heated personal confrontations were influenced by the German neo-expressionist choreographer Pina Bausch. There's something surreal about a man in a three-piece suit throwing apples into the air.

"Smashed" had seven men and two women; "Smashed2" features seven women and two men. "It's about revenge and redemption," says Sean Gandini, co-founder of Gandini Juggling. In other words, the battle of the sexes, 2024-style. Jugglers must concentrate, so they are particularly vulnerable to attack. This is one of the themes of "Smashed2."

The stage will be furnished with 80 oranges and seven watermelons. Juggling with actual food engages an audience. If you drop a ball, no harm is done, but a watermelon crashing to the floor is tragic. (Though the title of the piece suggests that this may happen.) "I bet they've got good watermelons out there," Gandini says of the Hudson Valley. (He was speaking on the phone from his home in London.)

Gandini Juggling has pushed at the boundaries of public legerdemain since it was founded in London by Sean and his wife, Kati Yla-Hokkala, in 1991. (They met while Gandini was juggling on the street at Covent Garden.) "Life: A Love Letter to Merce Cunningham" (2022) uses dance motifs inspired by the avant-garde choreographer to transform jugglers into Picasso-like abstractions. The score by Caroline Shaw pays tribute to Cunningham's partner, John Cage.

The troupe has performed numerous times in the Philip Glass opera " Akhnaten," in a scene Gandini designed. The spinning clubs perfectly mirror the repetitive tone clusters of Glass's music. (Those juggling props that look like bowling pins are technically known as "clubs.")

Also, the scene may be historically accurate. Egyptian pharaohs apparently did have jugglers. In fact, the first depiction of juggling is on the wall of a tomb from the 11th Dynasty (approximately 2000 BCE).

The troupe's other full-length works include "Mozart Glow Clubs," "Blotched," and "Don't Break My Balls." They've performed in over 50 countries.

The Gandini ensemble makes one realize how obsessive most jugglers are; they can't stop tossing clubs into the air. But this group can pause, tease the audience, make them inwardly beg for more airborne balls.

All humans take pleasure in watching a flowing stream of flames in a fireplace. Juggling is one of those mesmerizing visual spectacles.

When you observe a juggler, you notice how rhythmic her motions are; it's like tap dancing with hands. "Juggler" is related to the word "joker," and at one time referred to a deceiver, or a hypnotist. Though the leaping balls seem to defy gravity, actually the performer is skillfully employing gravitation. Juggling is a metaphor in modern conversation: "I'm juggling three jobs" means that one is constantly active, doing more than is humanly possible.

Part of the pleasure of watching juggling may be astronomical. The Earth is one of nine balls being juggled by the sun. And the path of the planets is elliptical, like the arc of a juggler's spheres.

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