Mike Stillwell (front) and John Nations just can't stop. Juggling at 41,000 feet on way back east from San Jose.
Cool Pacific breezes and hot juggling attracted more than 700 registrants to the 39th International Jugglers Association Annual Convention July 22-27 in San Jose, California. Warm and dry during the day; cool at night -- the conditions were as perfect as convention chairmen Barry and Sue Bakalor of the host San Jose Juggling Society had portrayed them in their bid to host the convention two years ago.
By all accounts the convention succeeded for the IJA. The public events were almost all sold out, including the 2,700 available seats for the grand finale "Juggling, and Other Delights" show. Anthony Gatto disappointed no one in setting new records for the Numbers Challenge and winning the U.S. Nationals Championship.
Likewise, Kirk Swenson and fellow joggler Owen Morse set new marks in the 100 meter, mile and 5-kilometer joggling events. Longtime IJA favorites Arsene and Waldo resurrected their team act long enough to win the first IJA Street Performers Championship.
Bob Nickerson received a special "Wild Style Award" from the Atlanta Jugglers Association for his U.S. Nationals antics. It was the first of what's hoped to be a growing tradition of affiliate-bestowed honors for competitors.
Robbie Weinstein culminated several years of trying by finally winning the Juniors Championship. Two new faces, Mark Chesbrough and Eastman Webber, performing as The Jet Set Jugglers, came from nowhere to win the Teams Championship.
In a new IJA wrinkle on an old theme, Michael Marlin emceed the championships events, providing levity between acts while the judges tallied their scores.
The entertainment never stopped. Workshops and a gymnasium full of jugglers working on all sorts of tricks were constant inspirations. Almost two dozen jugglers reported for convention three days early to take an intensive club swinging workshop from Allan Jacobs. A tired and sore Joe Esseichick said, "I walked away feeling like I had learned a great deal. I've been interested in it ever since Allan floored me with his torch swinging at the Amherst mini-convention two years ago."
One of the most popular of more than 30 convention workshops was "Jazz for Jugglers," hosted by Airjazz. These three performers -- Peter Davison, Kezia Tenenbaum and Jon Held -- taught two full classes of jugglers how to integrate body movement into their acts. More than 25 jugglers also attended a three-day pre-convention workshop with master club swinger Allan Jacobs.
Other workshops covered disciplines from balloon blowing to organizing your own juggling club.
The convention received tremendous national media coverage, primarily because of 13-year-old Anthony Gatto. When he wasn't on stage winning an event, Anthony endeared himself to fellow jugglers by mixing with them on the gym floor. He learned to ride a giraffe unicycle during the week and held his own in several late-night rounds of combat.
During the week, a welcome party and costume ball helped everyone unwind from a hard day's workout. After the evening's scheduled activities concluded, attention shifted to Club Renegade, where the show began at midnight.
Club Renegade was a "peoples" idea, conceived and executed by The Renegade Jugglers of Santa Cruz, California. The Renegades rented stage and lighting equipment and set it "al fresco" up behind the juggling gym. The hams came out every evening beginning at midnight to entertain ever-growing crowds. By the time Frank Olivier, Michael Marlin, Pat Hazell and Scott Meltzer closed down the cabaret Sunday morning at 2 a.m., a crowd of almost 400 enthusiastic people was gathered to drink beer and cheer them on.
Tom Kidwell of Renegade explained, "We thought there should be more of an open, unpressured and festive forum for people to try their stuff. We started at midnight because we didn't want to interfere with scheduled convention activities, and because we didn't want people to feel like they had to put on a family show."
The idea worked beautifully. Performers who took to the Renegade stage with music, magic, mime, comedy, and juggling included Cliff and Mary Spenger, Baffalo Bill, Bob Nickerson, Moshe, John Keeler, Mardine Rubio, and Danny Avrutik on piccolo. Cat Wildfire did a fire devil stick routine, Rock did club swinging, Manic Expressions showed some of their innovative team steals and takeaways and John Q. Public, the working class juggler (Larry Forsberg), performed politically satirical juggling. It went on nightly until the outdoor sprinklers came on about 2:30 a.m. to break up the party.
The cabaret paid for itself with donations from the audience, and Kidwell said Renegade plans to continue their phenomenon at all conventions for the foreseeable future.
The two scheduled IJA shows, "Sensations of '86" on Thursday night and the Saturday night public show, "Juggling, and Other Delights," were ably organized by Craig Barnes and Soozie Shireman. The Saturday night show filled the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts with more than 2,400 people.
Scott Meltzer and John Park, the American Dream Team, emceed the Sensations show and interjected several clever bits. The most outrageous was both fitting into a pair of humongous bluejeans and doing a two-person under the leg pass with clubs.
Other innovative acts they introduced included a five ball behind the back start from Olivier, Jeff Daymont's work with four cigar boxes and mandolin playing while juggling from the High Street Circus (Wheeler Cole and Andrew Potter). Kit Summers did hoop rolling while seven clubs were passed over him and Donna Meltzer, wife of emcee Scott, sang an aria about "The Juggler of My Dreams." Michael Menes drew the evening's only standing ovation with his highly refined body movement and innovative control of three balls.
Francois Chotard from France spun six balls at once on a hand contraption, the Duo High Fidelity from West Germany demonstrated diabolo juggling, and Sem Abraham mounted a giraffe unicycle from a regular one and then made the climb back down to the smaller model. Dale Jones proved quite a punster in his poetic juggling interview with President Reagan. The master of comic understatement, Arsene, simply shaved his goatee for the crowd.
The audience entertained itself by punching a tremendous beach ball repeatedly into the air.
The finale convention event, the "Juggling and Other Delights" public show, attracted jugglers on a half-mile walk down cool San Carlos Boulevard to the cavernous and comfortable San Jose Center for the Performing Arts. As the 2,700 seats filled near capacity, the audience entertained itself by punching a tremendous beach ball endlessly into the air to watch its flight up and down again.
Robert Nelson introduced 17 major acts and filled time between with repartee and tricks. The show opened with a choreographed routine that included more than 40 conventioneers. The next act was ball juggling by Robbie Weinstein, the 1986 Juniors Champion. The Cabangahan Jugglers, a Philippine troupe in national dress, followed with carefully choreographed club juggling.
Other first act performers included Michael James, Vaudeville Nouveau, Dan Bennett, Too Skinny Guys, Michael Menes with an innovative ring routine, Variety in Motion and Chinese guest artist Dai Shucheng's delicate and beautiful "flying boards" act.
Cliff and Mary Spenger opened the second act with some daring slack wire walking and Cliff's daring walk up a rope stretched over the audience. Bob Whitcomb appeared for a short combination trick, then Pat Hazell and a deft assistant totally confused a hapless audience volunteer with a disappearing coins of increasing size. Airjazz presented their artistic beach ball routine and Dale Jones showed his extraordinary balancing of a cane. Championship skateboarder Ken Martin and the Jet Set Jugglers, 1986 Teams Champions, set the stage for Anthony Gatto's finale routine.
Nelson introduced Gatto as "a hero to each and every one of us," and Gatto responded with an astounding variety of difficult tricks. Nelson then closed the show balancing a rose and reciting his tender poem:
With all the great shows at the convention, it was easy to overlook the Benefit Show. However, it did occur Thursday morning at San Jose Hospital. It was a homecoming of sorts for performer Dan Menendez, who was born "right on this outdoor patio where we're having this show," as he quipped. Quite a homecoming! Dan used three ball juggling, ping-pong ball spitting and theatrical posing to delight the audience.
Dan Menendez entertained U.S. Chamber of Commerce convention-goers at SJSU on first day of convention.
Last year's U.S. Nationals champion, Andrew Head, opened the show with his marvelous hat routine, then added a ball for more variations. He also did stylish three and four club juggling. Next came the perpetual motion of "Variety in Motion," Ricky Schnitker and Mardine Rubio. A juggling love story in their own right, they gave a high energy, aerobic team juggling performance. Mark Bakalor, third place finisher in the Juniors Championship, was his usual adorable, fanny-shaking self after being introduced as a juggler from the age of Vaudeville with 50 years experience.
The real 50 year juggler and showman extraordinaire, Hamilton Floyd, topped off the show with his rope spinning, juggling rola-bola ride.
One absentee from the show was MC-in-long-standing Bill Barr. Because of a new job obligation as a TV weatherman back home in Washington state, Barr had to hand over his usual duty to Dr. Barry Berkowitz. Berkowitz proved topical with his "Incredible Medical Juggle" routine, and introduced a new audience to the old apple eating routine.
General consensus held San Jose up as a model IJA convention. From combat juggling to buttons proclaiming "juggler for peace," there was something for everyone. As the largest IJA convention ever, it seemed that everyone was there to enjoy it. New members mixed with old ones.
The squadron of seniors was led by founding IJA member Eddie Johnson, now a Pennsylvania state legislator. A 1947 member and big name from the past, Bobby Jule, came from Pittsburgh. Nick Gatto, who joined in 1948, was on stage helping and encouraging his son Anthony through all his shows and championship performances. Homer Stack, a true vaudeville trooper, came to enjoy the festivities for a day. Washington lawyer Phineas Indritz, who joined in 1949, was loyal with his usual appearance. Bob Jackson, another 1949 IJA'er and former president of the organization, taught the youngsters some passing tricks with his wife, Lois.
Another past president, Bell Labs engineer Ron Graham, was foremost in a large number of mathematicians who demonstrated their affinity for juggling's limitless possibilities with their attendance. Longtime member and noted collector Mary Wisser showed up for her 11th convention in a row, outdistancing Edward Jackman for sole possession of that record, as Jackman had other commitments and couldn't attend.
The tremendous cadre of volunteers, new members and veterans, who helped assure its success through their service as security agents, performers and registration workers were acknowledged with certificates of thanks at the Saturday night awards banquet.
With the glare of television lights still in their eyes, notebooks full of new tricks and address books filled with new friends, they hugged each other goodbye with promises to keep in touch and meet again at the IJA's 40th Anniversary Convention next July 13-18 in Akron, Ohio!