Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Circus in Real Time: The Greatness of Gatto, the Pitfalls of You Tube
When I witnessed a juggler I had never heard of, during a performance last November in San Francisco at Cirque du Soleil’s memorable Kooza, my breath was taken away as it was when I was around 10-years-old and saw another legendary manipulator in his heyday, and instantly developed impossibly high expectations of circus performers.
The juggler to whom I allude proceeded from out of the most magical Cirque mist to mesmerize me with an exhilarating display of impeccable dynamism and craft, with a routine of non-stop mastery and power that built club by club by ball by ball to a fiery transcendent finish. This, World, is circus through and through. Seated next to me was an elderly woman, evidently just as awed as myself, who sighed, “that’s the best act in the show!” And to her I replied, dumbfounded with joy, “that’s the greatest juggler I’ve seen since Francis Brunn.”
I don’t know if the lady knew the name Brunn. She and I shared a genuine thrill over a triumphant exhibition — compelling control and power and speed molded tautly into something superhuman — a sort of momentary revelation from a planet of perfection visiting earth. After I wrote a review suggesting that Monte Carolo should send this guy the gold, no questions asked, no auditions necessary, I read that he — Anthony Gatto — in fact is the only juggler in the world ever to have captured the Gold from Monte Carlo. That was a very correct year.
Today surfing the net, I discovered a recent Boston Globe article on Gatto, against which the ambitions of a younger juggler from Russia of technically towering achievements, Vova Galchenko, are given equal attention. Seems that Galchenko has become a media darling on American TV, and he longs to equal or top Gatto. Perhaps he can, but he never will if, as I think I understand it, Galchenko approaches the craft as a sporting meet and tends to freeze under the spotlights. (I've not seen his work.) The two disciplines are so different. Circus sometimes can mold an athlete into a star. Usually not.
Gatto is quoted as stating something every aspiring circus artist needs to sear into his or her soul: “Juggling is and should remain performance art.” I take it he views his younger competitor as a technician rather than a performer. Karl Wallenda once told me that the figure who wishes to light up a tent must be an actor too. Perhaps the word “actor” was ill chosen, but I think that what Wallenda meant was that you merge your skills into a carefully defined persona, as an actor does going into a part and sustaining it every moment of the way.
In You Tube land, as noted in the Globe piece, a juggler can film his rare moments and merge them into an impressive though abstract claim, items isolated or disconnected one to another. Which is a bald cinematic illusion, and not a matter of true human accomplishment in the living moment. And circus excels in the living moment — we are witnessing a human being having to prove once again his total mastery — which is why this form of entertainment has never done well on television, which is maybe why the Felds have finally discarded those insultingly gratuitous video replay screens. And which is why, if the likes of Galchenko and his sports-minded cohorts rely too heavily on edited high points strung together for the You Tube crowd, they will remain a statistical fascination unto themselves without ever conquering the big top.
The Globe story by Billy Baker quotes economics professor Arthur Lewbel, who founded MIT Juggling Club, as conceding the obvious: “Up until the You Tube era, you would only work on a trick if it were possible to get it solid for performance. Now you can go for a 1-in-1-1,000 trick because as long as you get it on camera, you’ve done it.”
But what have you done? Juggling as a competitive sport? Let the mindless masses cheer fleeting moments in an artifical void. I want the guts refined into the act defined — the attack, the design, the continuous total performance reaching for the indisputably earned climax. I want the circus.
[photo of Vova Galchenko and Anthony Gatto, by Boston Globe]