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