A novel by Rachilde. 215 pages soft cover. Available through Rutgers University Press; 109 Church St.; New Brunswick, NJ 08901. $12.95.
The republication of Rachilde’s novel “The Juggler,” now translated into English for the first time since its original publication in 1900, marks a rediscovery of the prolific French author Marguerite Eymery Vallette (known as Rachilde), notorious in her time but eclipsed since. Witty, passionate, and elegantly composed, “The Juggler” weaves together complex theories while maintaining a poetic, mythical quality.
Juggling historians might appreciate the emergence of a new image for the juggler in literature. In Rachilde’s work, juggling keeps its traditional flavor of mystery and exoticism while playing a central role both literally and metaphorically. The aristocratic heroine, Eliante Donalger, is in fact a juggler and amateur performer – possibly the first hobbyist juggler to appear in a work of fiction. Though unusual for a woman in her position, her juggling skills do not exceed the realm of possibility. Her act consists primarily of juggling three daggers, with a dramatic shoulder throw to finish.
“She juggled very simply, but really, with heavy knives, quite sharp, and what would have been ordinary for an artiste at the Folies Bergere or Olympia, seemed amazing for a society woman.” She also performs flamenco dancing with exceptional style and expression (a la Francis Brunn)!
Wrapped in an air of mystery and intrigue, the singular Eliante Donalger dominates the novel as well as Parisian society. The story is actually a prolonged tete-a-tete between the widowed, worldly Eliante and the young, idealistic Leon Reille, a medical student who becomes obsessed with unraveling the secrets of Eliante’s personality. Yet he is almost afraid to learn too much about her past and what it has made her. Loathe to spoil the mysterious power of her attraction by giving away the secrets of her soul, yet dying to pass on her knowledge to a younger generation, Eliante draws out the drama while Leon urges her to perform her finishing trick before she is ready to pass the hat.
Eliante’s avoidance of physical passion is bound up with her artistic desire for immortality, a yearning which increases as her youth fades. During Leon’s first visit, she torments him by claiming to be in love with a life-size alabaster jug which “has stayed young because he has never cried his secret to anyone.”
Eliante’s fantastical imagination leads her to channel her sexual energy into her artistic pursuits – juggling, dancing, writing – and she seems satisfied with platonic relationships when it comes to humans.
“I find it absurd that a man cannot have an intimate chat with a woman… even one he loves.” While feminists might applaud these futuristic speeches, Rachilde leaves many ambiguities, implying that Eliante’s philosophies are self-defeating:
“Love, everywhere love! and she, the great actress, or the great victim of her own juggling, perhaps still did not know what it was, practically speaking. Vibrant and above the earth like a flaming torch consuming itself, she kept it all and yet dreamed of giving it all.” Whether Eliante’s view of love is truly her ideal or just a response to an imperfect society which typecasts women is left for the reader to decide.
Eliante’s juggling act symbolizes both her isolation from the rest of society and her contradictory desire to communicate and entertain. While Leon admires her skillful manipulation of daggers, he laments the fact that they separate her from the rest of society: “…she juggled to please herself. It was as though one could feel another blade both perfidious and passive vibrate in her. She amused herself naively, absolutely, with the unusual pleasure she procured for them, and she needed too the acute desire of the looks focused on her, all the vibration of an atmosphere charged with amorous electricity.”
For Eliante, the act of inspiring love overshadows the details of love-making, and it is in her role as entertainer that she finds the heroic and artistic parts of herself. Eliante goes to bizarre lengths to fulfill her creative desires, leading us on to a macabre conclusion which might leave readers wishing that plastic clubs had been invented 100 years earlier.
Rachilde’s characters are so colorfully drawn that it is easy to lose track of “The Juggler’s” larger pattern, but clearly this is a work of ideas which invites the reader to ponder the balance between love and art, providing rich food for thought though few definite conclusions. The beauty of the language (even in translation) must be experienced first-hand, and the use of juggling contributes much to this highly unusual and inventive novel.
by Cindy Marvell
© 1996 Juggling Information Service. All Rights Reserved.
Summer Circus Keeps the City’s Parks Jumping
by Cindy Marvell
A partner can mean twice the awe onstage, twice the laughs, yet not always four times the props. Several contemporary circus duos illustrate these aptly entertaining friendships as part of Circus Now’sSummerstage series.
With a name that belies their gentle, disarming opening, The Incredible Incredible, aka. Matthew “Poki” McCorkle and Justin Therrien, weave imitation and interactive hattery into an entertainment called Palindrome. A hat-on-cloth illusion captures the fancy of the audience especially of the young folk having an out-of-this-world day in their local park.
Lucas Hicks on accordion makes this a trio as the music upholds and almost prods the action, an invisible prop. Shoelace drama yields poi skills and a suitcase mime sequence seems inevitable.
Magic emerges when Poki picks up a mini hoop for a solo piece. He is known for expertise with multiple mini-hoops and offers workshops for those wishing to master or avoid impediment with the form. In this floating sequence of isolations reminiscent of Moschen, McCorkle brings out the poetic quirkiness of the form. As the winner of a “Hoopie Award” and as a Moisture Festival performer Poki’s willingness to mix insider skills with performance values creates theatricality.
Returning to earth in the Summerstage show he shares a meal with his partner. What would sound (or silent) nutrition be without a fork in the nose and a fully engaged volunteer? Part of local theater is getting it out there and an unpredictable portion of the crowd got into it. The Incredible duo will next take its production to the Oregon Country Fair and the Edmonton Fringe. www.incredibleincredible.com
Magmanus Company took Brooklyn’s Pier 1 by storm as the 4th of July approached, bringing acrobatic tricks, flying clubs, and just enough sweaty goofiness to cause a bit of controversy in New York City. Magmanus duo hails from Sweden with collaborators Manu Tiger of France and Magnus Bjoru of Norway. The relationship illustrates many complexities such as teeterboard transactions, backflip buffoonery, and juggling gyrations. These intrepid performers proved they could catch a number of high-flying objects or catch each other if necessary. The duo presents teeterboard as stunt theater rather than as a traditional act. This includes some comedic undressing en l’air.
Lots of fun, but what thrilled the audience were the planned close calls: a performer jumping over another with legs fully extended or seeming to flip over the statue of liberty conveniently located in the background. The rustle-tustle energy of the pair infused the antics and kept the surprises coming. A volunteer as a type of judge seemed intrigued.
Magmanus staged a similar show at Chicago Contemporary Circus Festival in June and is in the process of readying an international tour. For dates to come, including Montreal and arts centers in New York, check http://www.magmanus.com/calendar/.
Coming to Summerstage: the Gizmo Guys, Allan Jacobs and Barrett Felker. These shows will be in parks around Manhattan, where the duo is based. Jacobs, club swinging re-inventor, and Felker, numbers guru, both individual IJA champions, meet in a place of suspended gravity and share their innovative collaboration with tossery, mimicry, and props that know what to do ranging from hats to cigar boxes. And maybe four times the clubs.
Circus Oz, the celebrated circus from Australia, has a way of sneaking up on the viewer with quirkily unassuming yet spectacular and insightful productions featuring creative comedy, zany acrobatic formations, wild aerial stunts, and audience interaction. Given Oz’s habit of turning expectations upsidedown, would you be surprised to see a brilliant seven-ball juggler added to the mix? Would you be surprised to hear that she comes from Ethiopia?
Sosina Wogayehu performs with Circus Oz as “a contortionist and a juggler,” but you may as well put “juggler” first. This is someone with great control, talent and daring, and for the most part, she has been her own best influence from the start. Not many people in Addis Ababa, where Sosina was born, become professional jugglers. But Circus Ethiopia, founded in 1991 by Marc La Chance, has given training and performance opportunities to many local talents. Sosina herself became one of their early protégés.
Sosina, who has since made Australia her home, recently completed a run with Circus Oz at the New Victory Theater in New York. The New Victory is a renovated burlesque theater on 42nd Street that specializes in performances for young audiences, though many adults also attend. On the last night of Oz’s New York run, performing for a sold-out house, Sosina shone with a perfect, no-drop performance. Watching her, one gets the feeling that this great routine is a matter of routine.
It’s hard to find a costume that competes with a 7-ball pattern, but a lavender hair extension whose strands rise with static electricity, combined with a dark Archaos-style outfit and shiny black boots, could do it if anything could. Even Sosina’s hair could not upstage her sequence of 3-to-7 ball-bouncing variations, each artistically executed with white silicone balls. Sosina’s flamboyant contortions led straight into her juggling act as she performed on a platform that was gradually rotated by other performers. Somehow, she always knew which way to face for maximum effect. The platform is amplified so that the balls create different sounds upon impact.
The only act this recalled for me was that of Viktor Kee, because it was performed on a circular platform with balls falling from the ceiling, and because Sosina has such great body control and flexibility, enabling her to perform many original variations. In one of my favorite moves, she does a backbend and bounces three balls off the floor as if juggling them overhead.
One of the best things about Sosina’s act was that it was contained within a show that was so hot, and it was still a huge hit with the audience. This has been Circus Oz’s best year for jugglers: in addition to Wogayehu, the cast includes juggler and comedic improviser Joel Salom, who tickled audiences with his undressing-and-dressing-while-juggling routine and later wowed them by flying overhead while juggling three clubs. Salom’s work has been seen at the Edinburough Festival, the Sidney Olympic ceremonies, and on ABC-TV. Coldwell, now the show’s veteran and artistic director, takes pride in the 50/50 male-female ratio Oz maintains.
Wogayehu and Salom also joined other versatile cast members for some five-person passing patters. It takes a lot of focus and choreography to get an audience to appreciate juggling the way they appreciate, say, a bunch of “cockatoos” in a huge flying trapeze act, or Erik the Dog, Salom’s robotic creation, or Coldwell’s upsidedown saunter across the ceiling. The response Wogayehu got for her solo work was at least as good, thanks to her sophistication as a performer as well as to her technique.
Obviously, this did not come about by accident. Sosina began training in gymnastics as a child and rose to Ethiopian Gymnastics Champion at age 9, repeating at 11. In 1993, she joined Circus Ethiopia as a performer, touring with the troupe in Austrailia, England, and Holland. Some of the more memorable gigs included the Adelaide Festival, the Womad Festival in England, and a command performance for the Queen of the Netherlands.
As the daughter of one Ethiopian parent and one Australian one, Sosina has roots in both countries. She decided to attend university in Australia, and completed the Diploma in Small Companies and Community Theatre at Swinburne University. Her degree included skills and experience in the technical and backstage aspects of live performance. As a student, she had a one-month internship with Circus Oz, and became determined to forge a career as a performer. She helped support her studies by becoming a ‘busking hairdresser’ on the bohemian streets of St. Kilda in Melbourne. Thus her experience with hair extensions like the “do” she concocts for her Circus Oz act.
Sosina then enrolled at the newly-formed National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA) and, in 2001, became one of its first graduating students. In addition to ball bouncing, she developed a ladder-balancing act. While at NICA, she spent three weeks as a coach/performer in Far North Queensland, developing circus skills with a group of indigenous children. She has also conducted performance workshops for the Footscray-based East African Women’s Project, and theater workshops for migrants and refugees.
Aside from a recent trip to the Circus Princess competition in Scandinavia, where she met and performed with Shirley Dean and Francoise Rochais, Sosina has known very few jugglers. “I just started on my own,” she said backstage, as Circus Oz was packing up to return to Australia for more shows. “I don’t know too many other jugglers, but I would love to perform at an IJA festival in the future. It would be exciting just to be there.”
Cindy Marvell, May 2004