The venue for the 13th annual European Convention was the university in the attractive old town of Oldenburg - the first one at a university since Brussels five years ago. The organization was, literally, more professional than any previous European convention, even down to the doors being "minded" not by volunteers but by students. The symbol for admission this time was a plastic yo-yo.
With so many people attending it is not surprising that at times the two juggling halls were too crowded. But this is not just a reflection of numbers. The type of juggling done is now overwhelmingly club juggling and passing, which is the most space-occupying type. Rings seem on the verge of extinction, and when someone other than a complete beginner is doing balls, it's five or seven of them. Hats, cigar boxes and devil sticks have never figured much at European conventions, but for some reason diabolo continues to expand in popularity rapidly both in the skills exhibited and numbers performing.
Accommodation in university residences was limited, but was supplemented by the simple method of putting up to 25 camp beds in large classrooms to create a number of dormitories - an obvious idea, but one which requires goodwill on the part of authorities.
There were no campsites near the university, but the sports field served the same purpose well. There was plenty of space there to pitch your own tent, and a number of army-style tents were erected for those without their own gear. All camping was free, and the running track lights were left on at night so people could see their way around.
The registration was about $35 US, maintaining the European tradition of affordability. But this can only be achieved through outside support, usually by the local city, in the form of free facilities and/or financial grants. The allocation of local funds, loss of the use of sports facilities for a few days and one-day blockade of the town center by games and parade are additional prices to the local citizenry.
While European jugglers have come to expect financial support, there was a fuss this year over where it came from. Contributions from a local bank were widely unpopular, and a vote of thanks to them at the games received a chorus of boos.
Another area of financial concern was the Public Show. This year some people took exception to the fact that the convention paid some performers to attend, considering it contrary to the general spirit of the convention. The post-convention meeting showed a majority against payment of performers, but this may be irrelevant because there may not be any more money to pay performers and the future of the Public Show itself is in doubt. An auditorium to seat the 2,000 jugglers now to be expected at a European convention is a rarity, let alone the 4,500 who went to the public show in Oldenburg.
The talent at the Public Show was sensational. Peter Davison opened the show with his three and five ball routines. A full range of juggling skills then followed, including the bizarre "suckerman," who juggled three rubber plungers and stuck them all over his oiled body. For obvious reasons, the organizers included an East German act, Axel Darnjé, who performed four torches on a giraffe unicycle.
Michiel Hesseling and Jean-Michel Paré showed off their street show, which included comic club passing, Hesseling picking up from four balls to five, and Paré leaping from one to another of a progressively taller series of unicycles.
Koscel and Koscmann started with a slapstick routine, but got more applause for a wonderful club passing act that built to a climax of passing nine clubs while each balanced on free-standing ladders.
Ignatov was the finale act. In the gym he had shown an 11 ring flash, but the lighting and ceiling height at the Public Show only allowed nine. He also did five club back crosses and seven balls, the kind of numerical fireworks we've come to expect from Soviet stars. He had some problems kicking up from four clubs into five, which he does by stamping down hard on the head of the club and flicking the handle up into the air. He also appeared to have some problems handling the thunderous ovation at the end of his act. He seemed unused to such adulation, and decided to repeat his three club routine as an encore. At the end the applause was even louder, and so he did his three clubs again!
While Ignatov topped the show, perhaps Airjazz stole it. Their two routines, "Traveling" and "Poles," were breathtaking, elevating object manipulation from mere juggling into dance.
The Sunday business meeting raised the discussion of where to hold next year's convention, and of who was paid for what at this year's convention. The question of people videotaping activity in the gym was raised at the same time as Ignatov stood by videotaping the meeting. No firm decisions were made, but the likeliest venue for 1991 appears to be Verona, Italy. The traditional public show would have to be abandoned, however, because there is no single hall large enough. The alternative is to spread a number of open stages around the city.
It might disappoint some people, because with no competitions, the Public Show has become the focal point of the European convention. However, it's too late for Europe to return to the days of just a few hundred people at a convention, and the numbers involved now mean the whole thing has to be as efficiently and professionally organized as this year in Oldenburg.