Interview: Sean Gandini on Cunningham, Bausch, Balanchine & juggling

Friday 9 January 2015 by Carmel Smith

Sean Gandini

Sean Gandini co Director (with Kati Ylä-Hokkala) of Gandini Juggling started his career in the 1980s performing on the streets around Covent Garden. In the last couple of years he’s moved indoors to the Royal Opera House studios, where he’s been experimenting in combining juggling with dance. After the success of Smashed (a tribute to the late Pina Bausch) at previous London International Mime Festivals, this year brings a full on collaboration with dancers. 4 × 4 – Ephemeral Architectures is at the Linbury Studio (13 – 15 January) and will tour the UK later in the year…


Tell us about you new show. How did the collaboration with Royal Ballet dancer Ludovic Ondiviela (as choreographer) come about?
Whilst performing Smashed at the Linbury Studio a couple of years ago I bumped into Theresa Beattie (then part time Head of Dance Programming, ROH2) who I knew from many years ago. I mentioned that I had always wanted to do something with ballet, and she got the metaphorical ball rolling. Kevin O’Hare (Artistic Director, Royal Ballet) recommended Ludo and on our first play session we hit it off. We have a mutual admiration and the working process has been very organic. The Royal Ballet Studio programme has been very generous, allowing us access to their divine studios. I think they are very open minded and brave to have allowed this experimentation.

Is there anything in particular about ballet (as oppose to other dance forms) which lends itself to a juggling collaboration?
The rigour and classicism of ballet seems to fit our vision of juggling quite marvellously. Both aesthetics have an obsession with detail, geometry and dare I say, beauty. Although I must say what we represent in the piece as ‘classical juggling’ is in fact an invented classicism, it is modern juggling made to look classical. It feels to us that we have just opened the door and there is a lot more to explore.
It seems ironic to me that when we started, the dance forms that we exploring were closer to experimental dance, and that the journey has taken us to classical ballet. Some of the choreographers whose work we admire have done perhaps the opposite journey!

You have previously worked with dancers – but not usually in equal numbers as jugglers –how does this different balance feel?
It feels very natural to us. The ballet dancers generously let us do class every morning and they in turn have learned our ways of counting and doing things. If anything, sometimes they are faster than us at arriving at finished material, since we need more time to consolidate new ideas. Both groups though have been challenged by new co-ordinations. At its most complex the piece combines three or four multiple layers of movement, speaking and throwing.

Smashed was inspired by Pina Bausch. What was it about her work which appealed to you?
We have watched her work over many years. Actually I would say that until Smashed her influence on us was smaller than other choreographers. In Smashed we really wanted to say thank you to her but also see if one could use some of her ideas to generate juggling things. Her ideas were so rich and so ready for re-interpretation that making the tribute was very easy. For a while afterwards I actually had to not watch any of her work to try and clear the palette.

Who were the other influential choreographers?
Our initial love affair with dance was fuelled by the work of Merce Cunningham. We even travelled to New York to see the last three pieces. Ironically I think we discovered the intricacies of ballet via Cunningham, which I suppose is the wrong way round!
I love William Forsythe’s work and have over the last couple of years been obsessed with Balanchine. I am also a big fan of Jonathan Burrows work and would love to try and convince him to make a jugging piece! I think our work has had its roots in dance and visual art, perhaps more so than circus.

At the beginning of your career you used to perform in the street, around Covent Garden – do you ever feel tempted to go back for the occasional open air gig?
I have great nostalgia for the street. There is a special feeling one gets after a good street show. I fear that regretfully I wouldn’t be able to do a worthy street show these days. We frequently play Smashed on the outdoor street Festival Scene. From the balcony next to the ballet studios at the Royal Opera House one can see the main pitch on the Covent Garden Piazza, and it is curious to stand up there and reflect on the two worlds.

Gandini Juggling’s 4 × 4 is at the Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House from 13 – 15 January, as part of the London International Mime Festival

www.gandinijuggling.com

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