The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Tag: juggling

[Reblog] Dropped – The story of how the world’s greatest juggler fell off the face of the world

Image credit: Grantland

Image credit: Grantland

Dropped

Why did Anthony Gatto, the greatest juggler alive — and perhaps of all time — back away from his art to open a construction business?

BY JASON FAGONE ON MARCH 18, 2014

The greatest juggler alive, maybe of all time, is a 40-year-old Floridian named Anthony Gatto. He holds 11 world records, has starred for years in Cirque du Soleil, and has appeared as a child onThe Tonight Show, performing in a polo shirt and shorts, juggling five rings while balancing a five-foot pole on his forehead.

His records are for keeping certain numbers of objects aloft for longer than anyone else. Eleven rings, 10 rings, nine rings, eight rings, and seven rings. Nine balls, eight balls, and seven balls. Eight clubs, seven clubs, and six clubs. To break this down a little: There’s one person in the world who can juggle eight clubs for 16 catches,1and that’s Gatto. As for seven clubs, maybe a hundred people can get a stable pattern going — for a couple of seconds. It’s difficult to evenhold seven clubs without dropping them; your hands aren’t big enough. Gatto can juggle seven clubs for more than four minutes. “That’s insane,” says David Cain, a professional juggler and juggling historian. “There’s no competition.” …Read the rest of the story here.


This fairly long article speaks to me a lot about what it means to be a performer and what my craft means to me. Anthony Gatto, whom the jugglers I grew up amongst raved about all the time, fell off of the face of the performing world, after having received so many accolades. Were there to be a “king of juggling,” even today I believe jugglers in the know would not hesitate to crown Gatto still.

Fangone, the writer, did not manage to actually score an interview with Gatto, which is disappointing, but supplements his article with thoughts and analyses to try to explain why Gatto stopped performing to go into construction. Fangone wrote about, or quoted some of Gatto’s words that struck me as circus folk:

By now, though, Gatto’s relationship with the juggling community had shifted. He no longer regularly attended conventions or entered competitions. Gatto didn’t want to impress other jugglers. “Nobody cares about good jugglers in the performance world,” he later wrote in an Internet forum. “They care about entertainers.”

and this

Gatto’s frustration with young, Internet-native jugglers boiled over in 2008, when he got into a sort of arms race with Galchenko, the YouTube phenom. It began when Galchenko appeared on an NBC show called Celebrity Circus. He was there to set a record for doing as many five-club, five-up 360s as he could in one minute. He ended up doing the trick 21 straight times without dropping, breaking the previous record. After the show aired, Gatto posted a video of himself doing 24 five-ups in a minute, breaking the record Galchenko had just broken. Galchenko then posted footage of himself doing the trick 29 times in a minute. It went on like that for several more rounds.

A reporter for the Boston Globe called Gatto at the time and asked why Galchenko’s TV appearance had bothered him. Gatto praised Vova as a “great juggler,” but he also said of younger jugglers, “Until those kids grow a personality, they’re not going to wow anybody. The audience doesn’t care if you juggle 20 rings.” The reporter added, “Gatto now says he regrets getting involved in the 360s competition — though he says he can still go higher — because it sent the wrong message. The only way to judge a juggler, he says, is to watch him onstage, under the bright lights, over the course of a career.”

And finally.

(Gatto) gave in. He grew to accept the necessity of kissing the ball and lobbing it gently into the crowd with a grin. He also learned to make hard tricks look hard, to pantomime the exertion and self-doubt of a man working at the edge of his ability even though his ability stretched on and on. He learned to entertain, because for some reason, even though we exist in a physical universe defined by the relative attractive powers of massive objects, the mere demonstration of a lush and lovely control of gravity is not enough. He labored to please an audience that could never appreciate his greatness. Then he got older and watched a new wave of jugglers abandon the stage for the flicker of computer screens, sneering at the bright-light mastery he’d worked so hard to gain.

It’s at times when reading things like these that makes a practitioner of a performing craft wonder: What am I, and what do I want to be? What do I want to achieve what I want with my craft?

Do I want to push the boundaries of technical circus? My own skill have been stagnating for a while — even though I’ve over 10 years of unicycling, poi/flag spinning/etc. under my belt, my skills have not leapt beyond those “Youtube whizzes” who pick up the sport mere months ago and are coming up with insanely technical and difficult Youtube videos on their progress. I picked up the pirouette on the unicycle maybe six years ago, and the pirouette is very flashy and crowd-pleasing, but I haven’t picked up much else since then. It was only recently, as of a year or two ago that I started to push myself to go beyond, and learn something that would please less the audience and more those in the know; circus folk.

But very often I wonder if it’s worth it, as Gatto might have, when the fancifulness of its difficulty is lost on the audience. I’m not sure Gatto ever fully achieved that stage, where he could reconcile his integrity as a practitioner of juggling and perform to the extent of his ability, with what the audience can see and understand.

Orientalism vs Occidentalism: Circus Edition

I’ve been unicycling and spinning various stuff for about 10 years now, probably. I’ve spun in Singapore, and I’ve spun around the United States. I’ve seen buskers in the Czech Republic and in Germany as wells. One thing that always struck out to me was how similar Asian performers are with one another, but markedly different from Western performers, who are similar amongst themselves.

Let me show you two videos from the Olympics of unicycling, UNICON.

The above two videos show the winners of UNICON 16, Kazuhiro Shimoyama (Japan) and Janna Wohlfarth (Germany), of the Freestyle Expert category, Male and Female respectively. Notice the vast difference? Shimoyama does a lot of pirouettes, and is generally a lot more dance-attuned and rhythm-attuned to the music that’s playing. Wohlfarth, aside from the Marge outfit and the Simpsons soundtrack, looks more like a showcase of all the nifty skills she’s learnt.

And that actually quite sums up the difference between Western and Eastern performing. If you think I’m generalising, here‘s a link to the performance of Haruka Sato and Ryohei Matsuda (Japan), Pairs Expert, where Sato also came in second for Freestyle Expert, Female. And to compare, here‘s Philipp Henstrosa (Switzerland), who came in fourth in the Expert, Male category in UNICON 16, but this video is from UNICON 15. You’d see that the generalisations I made still pertain.

Such similarities transcend unicycles. Having been in New York for a while, other (Western) spinners never fail to be amazed by my movements, even though the tricks I’m doing are relatively simple. I can’t do a stand-up wheel walk or do a unispin or a flip; I can’t even do a hyperloop on a poi, but I do move my body a lot, and always in reaction to the music that’s playing. To me, music sense is very important to me, because it shows the audience how your mind and body interprets its surrounding and the music to the best of the limitations imposed by the props one is using and of one’s body.

In the spinning world, such a dichotomy is one of ‘Tech’ and ‘Flow’. ‘Tech’ is the pursuit of technical skills, the equivalent of stunts or tricks. They usually have a name, like “Rubenstein’s Revenge” or “Reverse Wheelwalk” or the ilk. Tech spinners tend be grounded on the spot and they let their skills speak for themselves. ‘Flow’ is simply movement. They don’t even have to be graceful and fluid; popping and locking while performing is a form of flow. It is the natural progression of the body as applied to the prop that gives flow its meaning. You can’t name ‘flow moves’, else it would be named something like “Hip-wiggly-thing-as-I-round-my-shoulders”. Less cool-sounding than tech moves.

Also fundamental difference, you can teach tech, but you can’t really teach flow.

I mean I do wish I were actually more skilled in tech. I always tell people “Nah, I just go flow simply because I’m bad at tech.” Which is not completely incorrect; my tech skills are very limited. But I do wonder why it seems almost racial that Eastern spinners tend towards flow (even if it’s crazy, mind-blowingly hard Japanese flow) whereas Westerners tend towards hard skills. I’m sure there are tons of tech-versed people who are trying to marry tech and flow, but the number who succeed, well. I’m not so sure.

You don’t have to run away

runaway

I’ve been keeping myself occupied, none of these occupying things are going to lead me to an occupation. But it takes my mind off of less savoury things, like why haven’t the companies I’ve applied to replied.

Tomorrow’s the weekly Circus in the Park which I hold in Washington Square Park. It started out as a thing I did on my own, where I’d just practice poi and unicycling by the fountain. Eventually, people got interested in what I was doing and started to join me. That was how I got to know the spinning community here in the city, really. Even though we haven’t talked in a while (Dale, Gwen, Rappo, etc), I will always remember them opening my eyes to the magnitude and vibrancy of the spinning community.

Funnily enough, back home, I was always surrounded by lots of jugglers and nary a unicyclist, except among the Singapore Unicyclists. When I did my outdoor practice, those who would join me were jugglers. Here I find the opposite: many poi-and-staff spinners, and I did not get to know many jugglers until junior year in college.

A contributing factor to why poi is so much more pronounced here is simply because there are rave scenes. Poi and glow-sticking are essentially the same thing, and they are constantly a mainstay at rave scenes here in the city. Not to mention that there is a hearty drug market that goes alongside these raves. You can scarcely find a light-show back home save for tourist landmarks, and it’s a death penalty for drugs (I heard the ‘mandatory’ part has been repealed but that’s another story).

Anyway, I created the above cut-and-paste notice to bring to Circus tomorrow, and it’s something I’ve been meaning to do for a while but have never found the time. Guess what, I now have all the time in the world. Go me.

I must say, the tedium of drawing, cutting and pasting the drawings by hand has a certain charm to it. It gives me a sense that I’m doing work. Granted, it’s elementary, but it keeps my hands and mind busy.

Here is another set of pictures I’ve drawn for the circus club last winter.

pbcircus

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