Some jugglers, such as Sean Gandini, have long been enthralled by the movement and mathematics of the skill and have sought ways to convey this fascination in performance. Some, such as Victor Kee, seen in London earlier this year in Cirque du Soleil's Dralion company, manage to convey raw physicality and breathtaking grace by engaging in balletic counterpoint with their props. Jérôme Thomas shares these approaches and more. Founder of the Association for Research in the Manipulation of Objects, he also works with jazz musicians to spur him to physical improvsation.
Cirque Lili is Thomas' more or less solo, more or less wordless evocation of an entire circus troupe, complete with his own big top pitched just outside the main Barbican Centre building. Some sequences are fairly literal: his first clowning routine suggests Chaplin, with his bowler hat and his cane-waggling. Some are more impressionistic: an animal-trainer sequence consists of marshalling three large balloons through the air with a riding-crop, and a simple rectangular metal frame spins through his hands and over and around his body to suggest a trapeze act.
Scarcely any of the show consists of what one normally thinks of as juggling, although his six-ball routine proves that Thomas is no slouch. More often it's just as much a matter of where and how he moves his body among the objects as of controlling their paths around him. (Thomas moves with a dancer's consciousness, though not always with similar lithe precision.) In a slow but engaging slapstick entr'acte, assistant-cum-sidekick Christophe Pilven demonstrates that even trying to pick up more objects than one can comfortably carry is a kind of juggling.
Ninety minutes of juggling may sound to many like purgatory. However, although a number of scenes could do with real trimming, and less cramp-inducing seating would also be a distinct plus, the show as a whole does not feel too long. What it does lack is an overall magic. The recognisable concept is not enough to make up for the absence of any sense of narrative, however tenuous, and the wondrous ideas and moments of dexterity and/or audience connection aren't quite frequent enough. You admire Thomas' skill, but ultimately you don't share in his fascination.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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