Written by Peter Gerber.
Published in the Fall 2004 issue of Kaskade Magazine.
When someone thinks of Israel, a prospering juggling scene and great hospitality are probably not the first things which come into ones mind. The image created by media coverage gives a harsh impression, and I felt a little uncomfortable before leaving. To cut a long story short, after 2 days in Israel this impression was turned around 180 degrees, and I must state that I thoroughly enjoyed two wonderful weeks in a truly fascinating country.
The annual juggling convention always takes place in Gan Hashlosha National Park, a very special place with four natural spring pools surrounded by palm trees. The spring water are are exceptionally clear, and are at a constant temperature of 28 degrees year round. This year there were 1000 people at the convention, but only several hundred were juggling at any given moment so there was always enough space to practice in the gym. Perhaps the pools were part of the reason why there was always room in the gym!
The overall technical level of Israeli jugglers is quite high, and you can really feel their motivation. Ofek Shilton, 9 years old, plays with 3 diabolos, flashes 7 balls and qualifies 5 clubs, just to give you an example (see photo). The scene in Israel is comparable to the german juggling scene, in the sense that there is a lot of technical juggling, but also some creative trends. I felt very comfortable being in the midst of it.
Guest artists are invited every year to give the convention a special touch, to conduct some special workshops and to motivate the local jugglers. Accordingly, the public show was a mixture of Israeli jugglers and of numbers by the international guests. It was presented by two young street performers from Tel Aviv, with a mixture of comedy and acrobatics, and I will attempt to provide a rundown of some of the acts. Tony Duncan, a co-founder of the American juggling movement, showed 3 short acts with balls and clubs as well as a comedy act on a slack rope. I remember best his amazing head-rolls and stalls in uncountable variations. The Shilton Brothers (Ofek 9 and Segev 16) displayed a technical club passing act. The fact that Ofek is so little and already passes 8 or 9 clubs with his brother gives the act a comical touch. I am certain that these two have a great future ahead of them. Another interesting routine was performed by a young Israeli, Asaf, not yet 15, with one and two diabolos. And Barak, an 18-year old Israeli, showed a three ball act with tricks that would make jugglers go wild even if showed at a European juggling convention, such as siteswaps done blind behind the back. I showed my three to five clubs routine and was quite pleased with it. I think the audience was pleased as well... Compagnie Du Singulier from France performed a ball act with live music. The juggler Vincent Berhault (see photo) moves very aetheticaly to the music. Very poetic. The highlights of the show for me were Thomas Dietz and Schani, Michail Staroseletski (an Israeli-Russian circus performer of past circus fame) and the final solo act of Thomas Dietz. Thomas and Schani showed their Take-out and Throw-in routine with up to 7 balls, Thomas catching the balls blind as Schani throws them in. Schanis solo part consisted of repeatedly biting a ball, giving some good ideas for a parody on the routine on the Open Stage that same night. Michail creates a story with a dancing painter (Eran Lavee - also the director of the piece), dancing across the stage a few times during the act, tying in well Michails outstanding tricks. Five club backcrosses for 20 throws, ball heading while jumping rope and juggling four balls off of a tennis racket being only examples. The final act was Thomas Dietz with the routine that also won the IJA Gold medal this summer. Technically this number is highly challenging, but Thomas has gotten so cool on stage that it didnt even bother him that the sound tech played the wrong song at the start. Many Europeans have seen his show more than once, but in other countries and for me personally it is a highlight every time I see it.
At night there was the open stage and I was very happy to see a really good and sophisticated open stage. The parody on the Thomas and Schani Act was so much on point that Schani and Thomas probably laughed the most of all. Excellent! I also remember Itsik Orr with a ball-bouncing act on a self-made musical instrument. He said later that he only improvised, but his stage-character and performance are already very professional and I am sure that we can see him in Europe in the near future.
Finally I want to say a Thank you to all the friendly Israeli Jugglers for their hospitality and encourage all to visit what is in my opinion one of the best conventions anywhere. Next year its planned to be a five day event (instead of the usual three) with a special full length show every evening. It really is worth the trip!
Peter Gerber, Regensburg, Germany.