Alight Fingers Juggling and Circus Skills Workshops  

Balls To The Baltic - Latvia or Bust



Elementary Latvian Mathematics 101

We woke up bright and early the following morning. We'd had a conversation the previous evening that went something a little like this:

"we'll pick you up at 10:30 tomorrow morning"
"ok, how long does it take to get to the van from here"
"about 5 minutes"
"how long does it take to get to the show from there"
"about half an hour"
"what time does the show start"

Now even with my limited capacity for mornings, I could tell that that didn't add up. We got them to come and get us at ten.

So at 10am we finally got to meet Katriina who was it turned out, not only a genius, but a raven haired beauty (I was beginning to think that all Latvian women were beautiful, but it turns out that we simply had the best of them looking after us). We were (once Jonathan had finished faffing about) then led by her and Gunita back down to where we'd left the van the night before, where we waited for every one else to show up, as no one else had been informed about the slightly earlier start. Organising jugglers … it’s like herding cats. We ended up waiting around for half an hour. Fortunately it was the mildest winter they'd had in years, and only mildly sub zero.

When they all finally did crawl out of the woodwork, it turned out that we weren't actually starting our show until twelve, so that was all well and good. I only had to kill them all now for making me get out of bed earlier than necessary. Again, that could wait until after we'd done what we came here for.

Eventually we all piled into the various vehicles and we headed out towards Grobina, a smaller town on the outskirts of Liepaja. We finally turned off the main road as we past some dilapidated buildings, and drove past more in various states of repair, or disrepair as the case may be. We followed the car in front until we all came to a stop.

From the outside the building we'd stopped at looked like any other white plastered building. There was the slightest coating of snow on the ground as we started to unpack, but we weren't going to get a snowball fight out of it. We carried our equipment upstairs while the local folks went and got changed. Again, I didn't really know what to expect here, but it was a nice hall, with a stage at one end. The chairs had been set out in a circle around the walls, extending the stage into the centre of the room. I like it like that, as it means we can get in amongst the crowd, and also meant we could use a little more height for some of the juggling and balance tricks. By the time we were bringing up the last of the equipment, children had started to arrive by the coach load.

Our local counterparts had transformed themselves into a collection of clowns and were doing a beautiful job of ushering them all in. Katriina, resplendent in silks bowed as I passed and I followed Amanda in, as she elegantly tippy toed all the way across the room. That's what you get from a clown with several years of ballet practice. Now I've never been fond of girls who wear too much make up, but suddenly I found myself wondering if there was such a thing as a clown fetish. I spent a moment watching the White Leg Circus, which is the working name our hosts were using at the time, as they went about doing what they did so well, and then I went to get ready myself.

The show was once again a whole bundle of fun. We had a minor moment where we realised that we didn't have a six foot unicycle to play with, because well, we'd given it away, and never thought to ask if we could borrow it back for the time that we were here. We filled up the hour by throwing things at each other and the usual assortment of other things that we do to keep ourselves entertained. We of course pulled willing victims out of the crowd to help us along, and ‘made’ them climb ladders and stuffed them in sacks amongst other things. It always amazed me how Jonathan could get children to do things, completely of their own free will, that would seem completely crazy to any sane adult. They loved it, the other kids loved watching it, and of course, everyone tended to come out of it with all their body parts in the right place so it was all OK in the end. He told me of a part of his act which he does in the summer, which I’ve seen written up elsewhere so I’m sure he won’t mind me mentioning it.

“Is it true that Jonathan the Jester throws a bucket of water over the kids at the end of his show?”

“Yes sometimes I do finish a show by throwing a bucket of water.  “ Jonathan replied. “And most times a lot of children put themselves in the way of that water...”

It’ll give you an idea of the tone of the show, although in the middle of winter in Latvia we didn’t throw anything at anyone. Well, other than juggling clubs at each other. Although thinking about it, there was the sack with the child in, but I digress ….

For lunch they promised to ‘make us very fat’ and they did a pretty good job of backing up their promise. We were taken to a little restaurant on the outskirts of Grobina, and fed large amounts of battered pork, with what I will describe as jelly and pink stuff for desert. I was seated opposite the trio of Amanda, Gunita, and Ieva, who’d been translating for us. It made for some long winded but interesting conversations, as half of what was said had to be translated. Feeling decidedly fatter, we left the nice warm restaurant, and headed back out into the Latvian (supposedly) mild winter, and headed onto the second and final show of the day. This was far more civilized. Two shows a day, and not six.

Katriina guided us to the car park next to the theatre where we’d be playing which was in the city civic centre. We decided that there was far too much to carry from there, and realising that we could drive the van right up to the front door, we did exactly that. We then unloaded and went and had a look at the area we’d be playing.

The chandeliers caught the light and your eyes as you entered the room. A large stage sat at the far end, across a sea of chairs. The stage had much higher head room than the previous venue which is always good when you’re throwing things around, and there was still a little space in between the audience and the stage for messing about if we wanted it. All good.

The lighting technicians asked if there was anything we specifically wanted doing with the lighting, and giving it a quick glance I decided everything would be fine. I made sure we had everything on the stage where we needed it and then went to get changed. We had hit the Latvian big time now. We had our own private dressing room and everything. I probably shouldn’t mention that Jonathan stole the key. He claimed that he simply ‘forgot’ to give it back. The Fool’s fooling no one.

Once again, having had no part in the planning, I had as much idea of what was about to happen as a cow in an abattoir. I knew that I should follow everyone else. I knew I had a certain part to play in the entire scenario, but I wasn’t completely sure about the final details.

It was booked as a two hour show, but the White Leg Circus were also going to be performing something, so we didn’t expect to be filling all of that time. They opened the show with a twenty minute performance, in which Marrick somehow managed to strip down to the traditional big clowns baggy boxers while standing on a rola bola, and Gunita proved once again that she’s not actually human because humans just can’t do that sort of thing. There was a brief episode with a flame that wouldn’t go out after a spot of fire breathing that would have had the health and safety people in the UK going spare. It was dealt with casually, and possibly comically, if not exactly efficiently by all concerned.

And then it was our turn. We’d worked a few new things into the act which was nice, for us even if the audience didn’t know they were new. To my shame, in the middle of my ball juggling session, I threw a bunch of balls behind my back, and as they came over my shoulder, I lost them all in the glare of the lights. Given that the light technician had specifically asked me if there was anything I wanted changing, I can only put down as my own fault. Still, if there’s one thing you learn when you’ve spent a lot of time juggling, it’s how to pick things up.

I once had a conversation with Mário, who often plays drums with Hazel O’Connor, and I asked him just how much of what he did was rehearsed, and how much of it did he make up on the spot. If you ever hear him drumming you’ll understand why I asked. He had a beautiful answer. I paraphrase, because I can’t remember how he said it, but it was something like. “I generally know what I’m doing beforehand, but if you fall off the beat, then it’s not a case of what you did wrong, but how you’re going to do the next bit so that it sounds right”.

So needless to say, the show went on, the balls ended up back in the air, and I even caught them from time to time. Of course, most of the time when something went wrong I just blamed Jonathan. What’s the point of traveling round with a fool if you can’t use them as the official team scapegoat? Or have them stuff anyone who doesn’t clap at all the right moments into a sack and drag them off never to be seen again. That did seem to work quite well for one reason or another.

There was however a major problem rearing it’s ugly face over the horizon. We were getting through all of the material too quickly. It turned out The White Leg Circus had only planned on performing the one session of twenty minutes. We could of course stretch the show when we could rely on being able to talk to the audience, but otherwise we were restricted to the more physical stuff, the stunts, and of course juggling. We were also lacking the unicycle. We’d been assuming the White Leg Circus would be taking up more of the time, so we’d paced ourselves accordingly. We were wrong, and the entire rest of the show was going to be all ours and we realised we needed to make some hasty decisions. The first decision we made was just to leave them to it and go and get a beer. After reluctantly conceding that this wasn’t our best ever plan (even it was a pretty good one) we came to the decision that we needed to make a better decision.

We persuaded The White Leg Circus to do another brief session after the interval, by way of introduction, and then we came out and played some more. Amongst it all I did a few diabolo tricks, which was interesting to say the least as I’ve not performed diabolo publicly before. This however turned out to be no great problem as no one ever cares what you can do with a diabolo (except other diabolists), as long as you can throw it really high and catch it again, or make it go really fast, and I can do a bit more than that.

We finally finished up with the ‘big tricks’ and then, to the kids delight, brought out our secret weapon. Jonathan had snuck off in the interval, and brought back the workshop equipment from the van.

“who would like to come up on the stage and learn how to use our equipment”

There’s a pause while this is translated, and then …

Two hundred hands go up in the air.

That was a great way to end a show. It was a classic impromptu moment and a wonderful bit of mayhem that ensued. The kids loved doing it, and the parents loved watching their kids loving doing it. I loved the fact that I’d decided to do this trip on three days notice, and we were still getting away with it every time with honours. Of course, it’s important to understand that even though I’d come on this trip on three days notice, there had been a lot of planning by everyone else previously (even if on occasion that wasn’t completely evident).  More to the point, although there were little snags with communication as described above, and with better ones to come, it was a real joy overcoming them. There’s the tiniest moment of terror realising that something is about to go totally belly up… and then as long as everyone keeps it together, there’s the joy of working your way through it.

From spending a day working with the White Leg Circus (and of course, a little longer with Jonathan), I’d realised that things would go wrong, but they were a good bunch of people and it was a pleasure working things out with them.

After the fun of the show, there was the not so fun job of packing everything back in the van. It’s a bit like Christmas. Everyone loves putting up the tree, but taking it down and putting everything back in the boxes to go back in the attic is just a job and you get on and do it. It’s still a lot less like work though if everyone is in high spirits from a good show, which we were.

It was trying to snow outside again, and (for the mildest winter in years) bitterly cold. Jonathan brought the van back to the front of the Civic Centre so that we could pack it up more easily. Then just as we were ready to go, we realised that there were four of us remaining and only three seats in The Jestermobile. Lelda and Martinch would be taking us to dine at Fontain Palace and we were giving them both a lift. So, keeping our heads down, Lelda climbed onto my Lap, as Jonathan complained that I got all the best girls, and Martinch climbed in along side. If this is illegal in Latvia, this never happened, and I just made that last bit up.



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