The Pit, London EC2
Opened 20 January, 2009

Call me conservative, but whilst creativity and inventiveness are all very well, I had always understood that the fundamental thing about juggling is not dropping stuff. Martin Schwietzke does not seem to agree; during the 60 minutes of the performance of L’Écume de l’Air which I saw, at least 30 balls hit the floor (yes, I’m afraid I counted), and despite the smooth assurance of Schwietzke’s manner as he simply replenished his supply from a basket by his side, it became apparent early on that virtually none of those was being jettisoned intentionally.
Schwietzke is self-taught, which may explain some of the idiosyncrasies of his juggling. He seems more comfortable with even numbers of objects than with odd; this is not an imaginary distinction, as the periodicity and the patterns formed in air differ radically between odd and even. Much of his basic three-ball work looks suspiciously like sneaky two-plus-one variations, and when the numbers rise he appears readier to work with six balls than five, even though at my performance he executed the latter flawlessly whereas the sixer routine took several attempts as balls thudded down (and always in pairs: when he missed one, he would discard a second to return to a familiar four-ball set-up).
There is invention in his routines. As well as the basic tossing-and-catching, he engages in much of the more gymnastic side of juggling, rolling balls around his body, launching and cradling them not just in his hands but in the crooks of his elbows and neck, in cups strapped to his knees and in the ones provided by nature, his ears. And in Les Apostrophés he has teamed up with double bassist Michel Bismut, who accompanies his routines by bowing, plucking and percussively slapping his bass and by whistling and vocalise. Bismut is attentive, shaping his instrumental phrasing to fit Schwietzke’s dynamics, and even improvising a diminuendo as one dropped ball rolled away.
But in the end it cannot be pretended that Les Apostrophés are a double-act: they are Schwietzke and an accompanist. And Schwietzke is not that hot. One fairly basic ingredient of juggling is variety of objects juggled; apart from a rod/hoop/balloon coda which again is more about grace than dexterity, forgive me but the work here is all balls.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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