The Games We Play review – an absorbing mix of juggling, dance and philosophy

The Place, London
Gandini Juggling’s multifaceted show delves into the history of the art form while keeping several other balls in the air

The story of a juggling pig; another about monks who juggle their way to enlightenment in Bhutan; the feats of a three-armed showman; the existence of a trick so dangerous we can’t risk seeing it – some of Sean Gandini’s tales might be too tall to be true, but it’s all part of the games he plays.

Having started out performing on the streets of Covent Garden, Gandini founded the company Gandini Juggling 30 years ago with his partner (on stage and off), Kati Ylä-Hokkala. Their work brings together juggling and choreography; they have made ensemble shows inspired by dance legends such as Pina Bausch and Merce Cunningham, and worked in collaboration with contemporary choreographers including Seeta Patel and Alexander Whitley.

But this time it is just the two of them, plus a sign language interpreter, looking back on their three decades and way beyond into the history of juggling. The show sets itself up as a lecture-style explainer (with Ylä-Hokkala very much the silent partner, the Teller to Gandini’s Penn). They break down some basic juggling patterns while Gandini references colour and rhythm, drawing parallels with David Hockney, Kazimir Malevich and Steve Reich. Then they build to something more complex, juggling as a pair with arms crisscrossing so you’re not sure whose hand is whose. It’s immensely pleasing to watch the puzzle pieces fit together.

The jugglers’ arms are tangled as the balls fly in the air.
Amiable … Gandini Juggling. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

The Games We Play delves into juggling’s past, introducing us to Jenny Jaeger from the 1920s, the first person to perform the 10-ball fountain. It also offers philosophical moments, gentle absurdism and forays into experimental theatre. The show is very funny, and then all of a sudden very dark, and it will certainly disabuse you of any notion that juggling is solely about tossing as many balls in the air as you can. Did you ever see passive-aggressive juggling? Well, here it is.

This amiable and absorbing show is part of the last-ever London international mime festival, which has been a valuable platform for so many surprising performances. A hybrid of dance and juggling is the kind of art you might not think needs to exist, but the Gandinis make you glad that it does.


Lyndsey Winship

The GuardianTramp

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