There are moments in life you recognize instantly as historical, you know will grow in legend as the years pass. You see them and they send a shiver up your spine.
So it was in St. Louis at the 44th IJA festival on Saturday night at the end of the Cascade of Stars Show. The performers trotted back onto the stage for their final bows from behind an inflatable arch, passing under a seven-club arch tossed flawlessly by Doubble Troubble.
Everyone else had come out when Sergei Ignatov emerged from behind the curtain, carrying a waving Anthony Gatto in his arms! It was as if the king of technical juggling, at age 41, was acknowledging the 18-year-old Gatto as future king and graciously introducing him to the audience. Having just flashed and caught 11 rings on his first try as the finale of his act, Ignatov was evidently feeling good.
The two superstars of traditional ball, club and ring juggling highlighted the festival for most of the 1,100 who attended. They each endured large crowds of onlookers as they practiced, signed countless autographs and posed graciously for photographs with lots of unknown faces for whom the particular picture will become a treasure. They watched as Ignatov effortlessly flipped five club back crosses, and as Gatto performed monumental tricks with unerring and almost inhuman accuracy, such as spinning one ring around an ankle, bouncing a ball on his head and juggling seven rings.
Their presence at the end of the first half and second half of the Cascade show highlighted a good week for the IJA. Other stars in that night of live variety entertainment included a fly-casting expert, The Swordsmen (Doug Mumaw and David Woolley) with their comic medieval fencing, Sandy Brown as the Juggling Housewife, Roger Reed's diabolo interludes, David Deeble's short skits, local comedy juggler Dale Jones, the Flaming Idiots, Doubble Troubble and the antics of show producers Benny and Denise Reehl.
A lot of other factors combined for a good festival - nice air-conditioned facilities, an affable outdoor Club Renegade, the successful resurrection of Combat, good food in the dining center and the presence of the lovely Trixie Larue.
There was also just enough controversy to make it interesting - an overflow gym opened too late in the week for many folks' liking and a new championships award system for senior individual and teams competitions that riled a large segment of the festival crowd into utter indignation. The crowd didn't disagree that Doubble Troubble and Andrew Head deserved the top rankings of the night, just that the top ranking wasn't high enough and that not enough competitors received medals.
There was only one IJA record broken during the competitions, as Anthony Gatto won all three individual numbers events and upped the ante in the "balls" category to 60 catches with nine. The winner of the mile joggle, Troy Fitzgerald, ran a 5:05, the fastest time since Kirk Swenson set the current 4:43 record in 1986. Fitzgerald, a Jayhawk Juggler and cross-country runner at Pratt Community College, said he's hoping to break Swenson's record next year in Montreal.
As a crowning touch to remind everyone of just what a juggling family the IJA represents, Carol Mills went into labor five weeks early and had to leave the festival floor for two days to give birth to her second child, a boy named Anthony Mills. His happy father admitted that the name choice was influenced by a certain celebrity in St. Louis. "We were searching for names, and Anthony was a natural," said Steve Mills. Ironically, the doctor who conducted the emergency delivery was also an IJA member, Peter Van Deerlin.
A big turnout of jugglers and public for the festival and shows also buoyed the spirits of IJA administrators, who were worried about finances after losing money last year in Los Angeles. The St. Louis festival apparently earned about a $40,000 profit, relieving the IJA's financial stress.
The move for affiliates to sponsor festival events picked up steam this year at Games Day. Several groups followed the precedent set by the Baltimore club's Three Ball Open, resulting in the Akron High Five cascade endurance contest and Safety In Numbers (Los Angeles) Four Ball Frenzy. Commercial enterprises also entered the sponsorship arena. Two Ply Press and Rava Products sponsored a cigar box event, Brian Dube sponsored a diabolo event, and Renegade Juggling sponsored a three club event.
There was a place for everyone under the large sports complex roof. Juggling computer networkers got together to talk in person, as did mathematicians, yo-yo aficionados and affiliate leaders. The real fun came in meeting people and sharing skills and stories about their common pastime.
Among them were:
The IJA special guests, Ignatov and Trixie, received awards following the Saturday night show and conducted a formal question-and-answer session with festival registrants earlier in the week. Ignatov, speaking through interpreter Chris Majka, talked about the technical details of his practices and career. His advice to aspiring jugglers was "to find good teachers." Admitting that his best years may be behind him, and saying he wished he had come to an IJA event 20 years ago, Ignatov said he still plans to push himself as hard as he can as long as he can, and has no thoughts of retirement. He paid homage several times to the skill of Anthony Gatto, and said he hopes to bring his daughter, Katya, to a future IJA festival. He also said that he is now free to sign contracts with agencies outside the Moscow Circus, and has signed a contract to work in Germany soon.
Trixie, with her husband, Escoe, by her side, fielded questions about her life and art. She talked about performing with Fred Astaire, her most memorable performance being in Radio City Music Hall, and about doing a dozen flip-flops on the ice wearing spiked gloves as a finale in her countless Ice Capades performances. She retired from juggling years ago to get married and then raised five children. She said she hasn't skated or juggled in many years, and broke her wrist the last time she was on ice skates. "Sometimes I feel now like I should take three balls out and juggle them for a minute, but then I think 'what for?'" she said with a smile.
As a nice punctuation mark at the end of this year's festival, Renegade Juggling arranged for a Sunday evening Belle of St. Louis riverboat ride for people staying over that night. Ed Carstens of the Miner Attractions juggling club recalled, "The dining room was elegant and we enjoyed a tasty meal. Then the band played everything from the golden oldies to M.C. Hammer. Within 20 minutes the floor was filled with people dancing. Renegades were in the majority for the fast dances, sometimes attempting to juggle-dance. 'Again, Renegades rule!' a band member cried out into the mike.
"As it got dark some of us went outside to the upper deck to relax and chat. With my three Squeezits I showed off what little contact juggling I could do. Sergei Ignatov said, 'Ah, Michael Moschen!' and began practicing the moves. So did his wife, Marina, and Karl-Heinz Ziethen. I asked Ignatov if he thought Anthony Gatto would some day be as good or better than him and he said yes, and that Anthony has 'a very strong head.'
"The musicians took a break and no one was on the dance floor, so we couldn't resist the temptation to juggle. One of us tried to juggle five big yellow stage balls, then I went ahead and did a nice long five-ball run with an 8552 site swap. (Mathematical computations of patterns was a common topic of conversation in St. Louis.) The crowd loved it."
There is another particular image which will remain with many people for years. They'll recall Jeff Daymont standing on the Club Renegade stage on the final night of the festival. Jeff brought out "Sergei," his Cabbage Patch doll and performing partner for the past two years. Daymont "asked" Sergei to do a trick, and tossed the doll up into a headstand on a knife Daymont held with his teeth like a mouthstick. At that moment the crowd went wild, and Daymont turned to see the real Sergei approaching from off-stage.
Ignatov explained that he performs in Moscow with a "Jeff" doll, produced a Cabbage Patch kid with long braided hair just like Daymont's and tossed it in a shoulder throw or two. The crowd loved that, too! Daymont recalled, "I started thinking about it later and realized I just did a comedy routine with Sergei Ignatov! It sounds like fantasy, but it really did happen!"
It was a wonderful capper for the week, proving again that the improbable is often possible in the juggling world for one special week each July.