The 31st British Juggling Convention, Canterbury
Tuesday, 3rd April
I felt very strange going into this one. I have had a lot of family issues over the past year & I wasn't sure if I was going to attend right up to the point I left home. I've only made one appearance at TWJC since the last BJC & that represented all the juggling practice I have done since the last BJC too. For some reason I didn't feel that I deserved to be there. However, I was warmly welcomed & accepted by everyone, both old friends & new, & for that I am extremely grateful. Thank you to you all.
I arrived on site at 17:00, which was the advertised start time. Just behind me in the reg desk queue was Louisa (not Laura) who gave me my first hug of the festival. Just behind her was fellow TWJC member Richard but because he has never been to the BJC before I didn't register that it was him until my second pass through the queue! Also received a lovely welcome from Tor (my perpetual HLGCBS crush) in the reception, then Hannah, Chunk & Bungle from SJC before we found where Kevin, Nicola, Duncan & John had initiated the TWJC camp.
I got my tent up quickly then we went for a quick explore of the site. There was plenty of camping space available around the outside of the sports pitches with toilets & showers close by (to where we were pitched at least) in the separate pavilion building. The enormous Spinning@ tent & a knife throwing range being run by the Essex Backyard Throwers. The main building housed the show hall which was open for practice space during the day & used for shows in the evening, a dance studio for workshops, a climbing hall for big workshops & practice space, & the canteen which was home to Montegriffo's Frying Circus.
Outside were the Veggies catering van, while Love Waffles were set up in another building. There was a separate building for the balloon modellers, 3 outdoor huts for workshops, another 3 outdoor huts for the traders (which were quite out of the way of the regular convention foot traffic). Another building contained the main juggling hall, a few more showers & also the Lazy Juggler bar upstairs.
We poked our heads into the main hall which already had the distinctive aroma of a well used juggling hall. We went upstairs for a drink at the bar & found it was much more pleasant to watch the hall from the viewing window! There were lots of unfamiliar faces in the hall which was good to see.
The pass for the event was a tiny glass bottle of bath salts/glitter on a ribbon. It was also noted that the 'no glass allowed in the main hall' rule was a bit of a contradiction. My pass also didn't survive past my third hug, I spent the rest of the convention with the ribbon round my neck & the bottle in my coat pocket.
Wednesday, 4th April
Breakfast is by far the most important meal of the day. It is something we take very seriously at TWJC so it was a dent to our pride that we were not first in the queue at 08:00 on Wednesday morning. Not that it really mattered when we found out that the team weren't serving until 09:00. I wasn't too fussed but the coffee drinkers in the queue were mortified!
We killed time by perusing the workshop board which took the form of a grid made from coloured tape stuck to the large windows along the side of the show hall. Workshops were written up on individual cards & stuck in the relevant spot. It looked pretty but unfortunately the bright back light from the outside sun made it very difficult to read & even more difficult to photograph unless you were close enough for the individual cards to blot out the sun.
I also enjoyed all the student artwork that covered every available bit of wall. All of it was very good, & some of it was excellent. I particularly liked the black & white portraits in the seating area for the canteen.
When 09:00 rolled round I was a little disappointed. It was ok but the portion was small, the bacon was tough, the mushrooms lukewarm & for £8 including a cup of tea I expect a lot more.
I spent the rest of the morning in the show hall trying to remember what all this circus skill lark is about. I managed some satisfying handstands, although I think this was probably down to my improved physical condition rather than maintained ability. I also did some club passing with Richard before we were interrupted by the fire alarm which forced us out into the car park in front of reception. I waited it out chatting to Dee, Tor & Helena & enjoyed coming up with unsubstantiated theories as to the cause & casting blame accordingly. After a disappointing lack of firemen I returned to the show hall & continued with some 3, 4 & 5 club practice. All of which was dreadful.
At midday I joined in with an RPG session being run by last year's main organiser Stephen. I've been looking for something new to try & have been enjoying the Dungeons & Randomness Podcast (start at Arc 2: episode 1. It's really well done) so I thought I'd give it a go. The game of the session was Everyone is John, all of the players are a different voice with unique obsessions in the head of John, a poor chap with a severe multiple personality disorder. The aim of the game is to take control of John by bidding with your limited supply of will power then get him to perform actions related to your obsessions to score points. Not knowing anything about the game my choice of obsessions were very poor, my top obsession was free dive for 10 minutes, which turned into stay underwater for 10 minutes cumulatively. I managed to genuinely achieve 3 minutes 31 seconds. It was a very bizarre session & lots of fun.
I then took a break to cook myself some parsnips & pancetta & whiled away the afternoon drinking cider & chatting until...
The Spinning@ Show
Our compère for the show introduced herself as Miss Glitterface which was certainly descriptive. She was clearly spoken & very confident but I felt she went a little overboard trying to control audience applause levels. If people want to applaud, you should let them do so!
The show got off to a great start with Rico Titou from France performing a beautiful hoop routine where I think every move was in the vertical plane but still mostly on the body rather than just around the arms. He was very fluid, used the whole stage & at a time when 'generic hoop act' is in danger of entering my list of go to phrases for convention reviews Rico showed a lot of originality.
This was followed by Tony Nowhere with a rope dart act it might have been good but I don't know because it was unfortunately ruined by being an unnecessary glow routine. I'm sure there was lots of interesting things being done with the rope in the dark but all I could see was a bright spot of light either drawing a circle or going back & forth across the stage like the face of a 1970's Cylon.
Next up we had another hooper. She had a great sparkly costume & clearly enjoyed being onstage, she was very good but unfortunately it felt a bit too much like a generic hoop act. I can't pick out anything unique or special that I haven't seen before.
This was followed by Stanley Styx with an unnecessary glow staff routine. It was unnecessarily bright too, I couldn't look directly at the prop. It was a staff routine with overly dramatic music & a daft storyline. I'm sure all the contact moves were very interesting but in the dark it just looked like a really slow staff routine.
Pixie Patch tried a clown routine. In this instance the glow hoop was not just unnecessary, it was a brick wall preventing any enjoyment of the routine. If you are going to do any sort of clowning, I need to see your face. With the lights down I couldn't see any expressions or connect with the performer in any way.
Thankfully Ben Cornish rescued the show by performing with the lights on! He did the walking round the isolated suitcase skit & a bit of ball spinning. However, due to injury he couldn't do much of the spinning so the audience was in the awkward position of wanting him to succeed at the trick but didn't want him to hurt himself. What the act lacked in material Ben made up for with charisma, he was funny, charming & delightful.
Also performing with the lights on was Sam with a fast paced technical bar flair act. He performed lots of rolls, spins, stalls & traps with a big smile.
I was suffering some pretty severe hoop-fatigue at this stage in the show but Alice still managed to blow me away with a sensational melancholic hoop routine. Everything she did was flawlessly stylish & graceful. Instead of a checklist of flashy hoop tricks the routine consisted only of moves that fit the character, but was still highly technical. This was a great example of the performer being the focus instead of the prop. She maintained character with her body language, facial expressions & pace of movement almost to the end, only breaking I think to celebrate a job exceptionally well done.
After that I think it was Boris with a nice 1 & 2 diabolo routine using a loop of string instead of sticks. I haven't seen this style for years so it was a very pleasant change. Excellent skills well executed. Oh & with the lights on too!
Act of the show was Lukie the box monkey performing with 3, 4 & 5 cigar boxes. It was highly energetic & crammed from start to finish with ridiculously difficult tricks. There were quite a few drops but Lukie's personable nature on stage meant the whole audience was with him all the way willing him to succeed. Allegedly the routine was only put together in a couple of hours, but I'm not sure I believe that.
The show finished with another hoop act this time from Callum & Lisa. It's ok but still an unnecessary glow routine. I think the performers were a bit rattled too because the sound tech used a snippet of their music for the previous act which must have been off putting.
I'm glad I saw this show. The lows were low, but the highs were exceptional & more than made it worth my while. Remember kids, just say no to glow.
Thursday, 5th April
I made my own breakfast this morning (Eggy Bread - beat one egg per slice of bread, soak bread thoroughly in beaten egg, fry for about 1 min each side, spread with English mustard #recipe) which set me up well for the day. I spent the morning up in the bar area writing, then I joined Susannah, Lyn, Void & Guy to solve a cryptic crossword. I even managed to solve a clue, which is one more than I usually do.
At midday I joined in with another RPG session with Stephen. This time the game was called Lasers & Feelings, a more traditional RPG game where everyone plays individual characters trying to accomplish a mission, which in our case was to stop mind controlling parasites from reaching Earth. I played a yellow custard coloured android. As it turned out my disembodied leg turned out to be more useful than the rest of my character.
After lunch I enjoyed another chilled afternoon eating, drinking & chatting in the sunshine before heading into the hall for...
Our host for the evening was Devilstick Peat who is clearly enjoying the Tommy Cooper style of magic which he performed in between most acts.
Kicking off the action were Chris & Eilidh with an acro routine. The balances were a bit shaky but the routine had lots of daring moves & there were no mistakes that I could see. I enjoyed the ballroom dancing interludes in between moves & fantastic costumes too. Ivana got off to a droppy start with her hat routine but she got stronger as the routine went on. Her 3 hat work was superb, I particularly liked the sequence where she rotated 3 hats between her hands & head while twirling across the stage on her knees. I would like to see this act again.
I was initially dubious when John & Steph took to the stage with their glow poi, however the lights stayed on & their outfits were simply stunning. They performed a beautifully choreographed partner poi routine with lots of very well executed sequences all with slick transitions. It was clear they had put a huge effort into the presentation of the act. I was most impressed with the fast side to side step across the stage while standing front to front, yeah the intertwining poi was nice but the footwork was exquisite! Both performers wore massive smiles & clearly enjoyed being on stage.
Cameron & Mark entertained with a ring passing routine featuring an excellent mix of both technical & silly entertaining tricks all performed with good humour & a great connection with the audience. Daniel performed an excellent comedy ball juggling piece. Despite being dressed in a simple grey t-shirt & shorts he was able to brighten the stage with personality alone. He very quickly built a strong rapport with the audience only using one of the most expressive faces I have ever seen.
Keith & Antonia filled the stage with their poi passing routine featuring lots of slick behind the back catches, which were surprising because the passes were low, fast & horizontal rather than high & floaty like most throws that lead to a behind the back catch.
Closing the show was Arthur Hyam with a new diabolo routine. Lots of tough tricks with 1 to 3 diabolos, it was pretty droppy but he kept his composure throughout.
All in all a great show.
Friday, 6th April
On a tip from another juggler Kevin, Louisa & I walked down the road to find the Lime Tree Cafe hidden behind the Sainsbury's supermarket. We were gutted to find out that they weren't serving a full English that day but we enjoyed excellent bacon in beautiful soft white baps & a nice cup of tea. It was a lovely pristine cafe overlooking the county cricket ground which was busy with people hurling cricket balls at batsmen using those flexible tennis ball launchers you often see dog walkers use. It was a bit unfair I thought but very entertaining as the trainers were not always particularly accurate. It made me wonder how fast a fast bowler could bowl if they could use one in competition. Before we left Kev made the staff promise that they were definitely serving a full breakfast tomorrow at least 3 times.
Back on site we prepared for the long day in Margate. Buses left site at midday & 40 minutes later dropped us off at Dreamland. The info booklet told us our pass entitled us to a free ride or some free food at one of the concession stands, neither of which turned out to be true. I certainly didn't feel like paying any of the high asking prices for the basic fairground attractions. There was one side attraction that I felt would have been pretty easy pickings for the aerialists & rock climbers among the BJC crowd where you had to hang from a bar for 2 minutes. I admit I was tempted to have a go but put off by the prospect of winning an absurd oversized stuffed toy. Many attractions were closed or under construction, the bar was mugging patrons for £5 a pint, the roller disco floor was the size of a postage stamp. To make things worse before the games started we were subjected to the excruciating Story time with Peter Rabbit show, a patronising screechy affair narrating the actions of someone in a stuffed animal costume. I died a little inside. For those that couldn't believe it the first time they did it again an hour later.
Devilstick Peat & Russell Wells got the games underway. I watched Felix win the brief 5 club endurance in windy conditions & Lucy put in a great performance to win the unicycle gladiators. I got bored with the prolonged balloon modelling race & joined Kevin, John & Gabor to explore Margate & scout out somewhere to eat for Louisa to join us later. It took us a while to find the exit through the park's last ditch attempt to fleece customers of their loose change otherwise known as the 'amusement' arcade but we finally managed to reach safety. However, Margate was a very depressed town of soulless amusement arcades & uninspiring eateries in between boarded up shops & litter. We spent our time exploring the handful of interesting antique/bric-a-brac stores, all of which were charging antique prices for bric-a-brac. I did like the 7ft imitation bear though.
We decided that the Weatherspoons pub was the only safe option for something to eat & bagged a table before it got too crowded. I left the group to find Louisa who was MIA. I was beginning to fear that she might have slipped into a coma in Dreamland & that I might have to go back in to get her out which was quite the emotional crisis. Fortunately she emerged while I was figuring out just how much I was willing to pay someone else to go in & get her.
Back at Weatherspoons we ordered food & settled in for the advertised 30-40 minute but in reality 1 hour wait for food & amused ourselves by pinging origami frogs at each other courtesy of another juggler on the next table. After gorging ourselves we ambled to the other side of town to the Wintergarden Theatre for...
The Gala Show
On entering the theatre we were greeted by a superb giant balloon sculpture of the convention's troll mascot, animated by volunteers with long poles. Easily the best BJC balloon sculpture yet.
Unfortunately most of the seating was flat, the only raked seating mostly had views partly obscured by pillars. We decided to sit in the flat seating, hoping their wouldn't be much low level action.
Our compère for the evening was Matthew Tiffany who entertained with a Brunn combination trick, spinning a 3 ball stack, some teaspoon balancing & some songs on the banjo in between acts.
Jon Udry kicked off the proceedings with some nice ball through the rings juggling, some of his fantastic 3 club technical skills, a daft 3 ball strip tease (just his jacket) before finishing with his 5 helium balloon juggling. I really enjoy his dry sense of humour & his comedy skills are improving every time I see him.
This was followed by Ben Nichols performing as Professor Circumference's assistant. It finished with an interesting way to get into a 5 ball cascade by holding 3 balls in place on top of a beach ball using a juggling ring, then dropping the whole lot on the floor which launched the 3 balls into the air in perfect formation. It was a nice act but felt very low energy after following on from Jon Udry.
Ratcheting things up again was Jan Himself with a superb high skill diabolo act with lots of Zoolander-esque male model humour. A lot of the gags involved his phenomenal waist length hair which he incorporated into his diaboloing. This was a really really really really good looking act.
I was very surprised to see Paul Zenon listed in the info booklet. I loved watching him perform when variety was a thing on UK TV in the 90s. Paul is a great magician & comedian & I was really enjoying his act until it was unfortunately cut short by a stage hand angrily demanding that he get off the stage. It was not immediately clear why this was the case, & there was no explanation given. If it was the adult humour he used it was certainly no worse than that used by Jon Udry or Tiff. If it was the cigarette that he was performing a trick with surely this should've been picked up in advance? Regardless the episode completely ruined an otherwise very enjoyable act.
Helena Berry opened the second half with a wonderfully moody acrobatic juggling piece. There were lots of walkover, handstand & cartwheel moves with balls balance on her feet, then a lot of interesting juggling patterns involving catching balls on the sole of her right foot. She struggled a bit with the 5 ball cascade to foot catch finish but it was genuinely satisfying when she did manage to land it.
I was really looking forward to seeing Loz Because because (I can't believe that has never come up in my writing before) she is one of my favourite performers. I love her manic comedy style so I was disappointed when she performed an unnecessary glow routine I think there was lots of nice subtle technical skills lost in the darkness. I did like the Streetfighter 2 reference though.
The Berlin Passing Girls are a 4 strong troupe from Germany who were very technically adept & filled the stage in all 3 dimensions with big many club passing patterns. The act had a lot of parallels with the Gandini Juggling Project. It was a well choreographed routine but I felt some of the transitions were a little slow for my liking & it lacked that little extra polish that the Gandini's bring.
Rounding off the evening was BJC favourite Steve Rawlings being Steve Rawlings. You've all seen his act, you all know how good he is. Was he brilliant? Of course he was!
Saturday, 7th April
Saturday started with a bit of light rain, but not enough to stop Kevin, Laurence & I wandering down to the cafe for breakfast where we met ball spinning Peter & enjoyed large English breakfast featuring lovely soft bacon, superb sausages & free tea/coffee refills for £7. It was a lovely meal, served by pleasant staff & enjoyable company.
Back on site I joined the last of Stephen's RPG sessions. The name of the game was Actual Cannibal Shia Lebeouf, & the aim is to kill or escape from Hollywood actor Shia Lebeouf. This game felt a bit unfair the odds always seemed to be stacked against us, but it was still fun to play thanks to the other players. I was the first player to die in an adventure where almost all of us perished but as a team we were victorious.
I then went back to my tent to cook myself some food, during this time I had to actively avoid the burning sun. I regretted not packing my shorts.
A great place to avoid the sun was the Spinning@ tent for an audience with Steve Rawlings. Steve was open to every question, full of fascinating stories & gave useful advice from experience. It was a very funny & entertaining session which could have gone on for hours.
The panel of judge's this year consisted of Ben Cornish, Natalie Randall & Matthew Tiffany. Jon Udry took on compère duties.
I sadly can't remember the names of the young acrobatic trio who opened the show. They were all extraordinarily bendy, as only kids can be. They did lots of synchronised tumbling into splits positions. They lacked a bit of confidence & were a little hesitant at times but they got through their well choreographed routine without any errors as far as I could see. A cracking start.
Next up was Becca with a staff routine. She had a great costume & presented herself well, again she lacked a bit of confidence but kept smiling & worked through her piece which was well choreographed to her backing music. My only real complaint was she was too static, she never really left the centre of the stage.
Jonny performed a technical ball juggling routine with 3 to 7 balls. There was a lot of variety but the performance had too many drops for it to build any momentum.
Young Sophie presented a glow poi routine which was fine but unfortunately for me she did the routine with one set of poi, then pretty much did the same routine again with another set of poi that had long tails which was just unnecessary. The takeaway lesson from this act is: if you have 3 minutes of material, just do a 3 minute act. Short acts are perfectly ok!
The next act was Chris with his S-staff. This was not my thing at all, the isolations were unconvincing & the routine was repetitive. My main frame of reference for this type of act is Nik Robson-King who is mesmerising to watch, sadly Chris had none of the magic. I am well aware that it's pretty unfair of me to compare him to Nik because that is a very high bar to live up to.
I wisely walked out on Peter practicing earlier in the week when I learned that he would be competing in BYJOTY. I prefer to be surprised, & I know I judge acts more harshly if I've seen it before. He stormed through a fantastic spy themed walking globe routine. It featured loads of tricks I haven't seen before such as a leapfrog mount over a globe onto another one, a 3 ball 1-up 180° on 2 globes. My favourite trick was when he put a globe into a fast horizontal spin then leapt on & maintained the balance until the spin stopped. Bonus points for his young assistant being suitably decked out in black clothes & sunglasses too! It's the little touches like this that make an act special.
Closing the show was Circomedia student Eilidh Sela with a very high end hoop act. Her advanced training was evident from the start, the whole routine was very slick & professional. She looked great & was able to throw in the incidental smiles & connections with the audience that only comes when you are very comfortable with your skills. She rattled through all the tricks at a blistering pace yet was still tight to the musical queues. Fantastic stuff.
While the judges retired to deliberate their decision Jon kicked off the best trick competition. The drop count competition wasn't particularly popular this year which meant the prize fund was only £12. This fact combined with the length of time that the best trick section went on for meant that it violated the UK minimum wage law.
The judges returned to award Peter & Eilidh silver awards & Eilidh the Judge's Choice. Once the votes were counted Peter picked up the BYJOTY title. It was tough to call between Peter & Eilidh. I think Eilidh was the better performer, but the market for accomplished hoop acts is becoming saturated whereas Peter's routine had the benefit of originality & rarity.
Other stuff probably happened then it was time for another episode of...
Our panellists for the evening were The Void, Jamie Fletcher, Mandy Blake & Devilstick Peat. They were kept under control (mostly) by Ashby Winch. I particularly enjoyed hearing about Void's experience's of working with Max & about Mandy growing up in the early UK convention scene. It was a fun, laid back show in which everyone was entertaining.
Sunday, 8th April
I cooked my own breakfast then spent the rest of the morning doing some juggling & handstand practice in the show hall. My handstands are improving, I managed to stay standing after being struck by an errant diabolo twice.
The BJC meeting was very positive. I was very impressed with how effective Anna's opening preemptive strike against some of the obvious complaints was. I also think every BJC meeting should feature a scone vs scone pronunciation fight.
Jane talked about all the developments for next year's EJC 2019 which is going to be awesome. Keep an eye out for tickets, you can be the first to know by signing up to the email news letter.
At present there are no bids for a BJC in 2019. If you have a proposal, no matter how tentative, please do come forward.
After a bit more food it was time for the Fight night qualifying. 31 of us registered to take part, we were split into 2 groups & then worked through matches until everyone in group A had played everyone in group B. The climbing gym was too small for everyone to play at once so we set up a queuing system so that there were only around 8 games happening at any one time. This helped by giving us players a little bit of a rest between matches & allowed us to watch some of the games which I appreciated. Cameron beat me 3-0 with ease early on. Felix Surbe beat me 3-1. I'm not going to dwell on the 3, I'm going to focus on the 1 which was the greatest point I have ever scored. I managed a very clean lunging strike at full stretch on one of Felix's clubs just before he could catch it, my high throw was a bit wayward though forcing me to run & slide on both knees to make the save. Unfortunately I didn't slide on the nice slippy part of the hall, I slid on the grippy black rubber section of the floor which took all the skin off of my left knee & some of my right. I couldn't kneel down for the rest of the festival, but for that brief moment I looked good. I also lost 3-1 to Rob Woolley. I had a very satisfying 3-2 win over Stephan Cipra. Stephan is a very fast player who literally ran rings around me, I spent most of the match standing in the centre fending off his attacks but I was able to take advantage whenever he extended himself that little bit too far. Other than that I think I won everything else 3-0. Sadly my last match ended in disaster. I was playing Joe Wonham, we were at 2-2. He threw a club up & came at me for an attack, I tracked back a little then made a high throw & reached to swipe at Joe's descending club, while I was watching Joe's club I think Joe leapt in an attempt to catch my high club. I batted his club just in time to clout him in the face. I didn't realise this at the time so I caught my club & juggled to a clean finish, I turned to thank Joe for the game only to find him crouched & holding a bleeding nose. Arse.
I'd like to say sorry again to Joe for causing the injury & a big thank you to Stephen as the first-aider on hand for taking good care of him.
The results were totted up & 12 of us were selected for the main tournament to be held later in the evening. I was pleased to have made it through so I thought I'd go back to my tent for a brief nap before the main event at 22:00. I woke up & looked at my phone which said 21:57 so with a little bit of a panic I made it to the main hall in time for...
The arena was set up at one end of the main hall, Ieuen acted as referee, Dee kept score & Rosie Kelly did a fantastic job as the commentator making up lots of ridiculous facts about the competitors. My favourite line of the evening was, "Callum is sponsored by outer space".
True to form I went out in the first round losing 5-4 to Lukas Bonauer, but at least I didn't make anyone else bleed, although I did come close when I went crashing into the commentator's table.
Jon Peat surprisingly steam-rolled the number 1 seed, Brook Roberts 5-0 in the semi final. I have a long & glorious history of losing all the points-0 against Jon, but Brook?! Callum Lawrie pulled off a superb victory against number 2 seed, Cameron Ford to join Jon in the final. Callum lead Jon 4-3, when Jon won the next point he amusingly thought he'd won! Jon also took the last point to win the title with a well deserved 5-4 victory.
Well done to all involved, especially Ieuen for organising the whole thing.
Monday, 9th April
Monday was pack down day so I spent the day carrying fencing to the end of the car park, moving tables & chairs back into class rooms & litter picking. Thank you to everyone who chipped in to help, especially on the last day.
It was particularly lovely to see Anna & Jak smiling & laughing after a very successful event.
Being mentioned 4 times in one review. I feel... honoured!
It was great to have you in all my games though, and I do hope you'll join me again (hopefully @ Bungay if I run them!)
Games at Bumgay!!
Good heavens, whatever next?
Someone will be suggesting workshops if this trend continues, fetch my smelling salts someone I'm close to fainting...
Subscribe to this forum via RSS
1 article per branch
1 article per post