Sean Gandini has spent the last 25 years researching and contributing to all aspects of juggling but his work also includes choreography, film making, writing and piano. With Gandini Juggling, he has performed in over 2,500 shows and, this year, he brings Smashed to the Brighton Festival audience. I managed to chat to him between juggling classes, something else that he loves to do.


Are you excited to be bringing Smashed to the Brighton Festival?

Yes, it very exciting because we are performing much more abroad than we are in England at the moment and so it’s nice for us to get back on the English stage as we are based in England.


Can you tell me a little about the show?

I suppose the best ay to describe it is either juggling theatre or juggling dance. It’s a piece we made as a tribute to Pina Bausch, the German performer of modern dance, choreographer, and ballet director. With her unique style, a blend of movements and sounds and with her elaborate cooperation with performers during the composition of a piece, a style now known as Tanztheater, she became a leading influence in the world of modern dance.  


Initially it was made as an outdoor piece for the National Theatre in London for the “Watch This Space” season and at first it was a short piece and we were only going to play it for a week. The show had something that really communicated to people and lots of interest was shown after the run so we have since reworked it to be a one hour indoor show and it has become, by far, our most popular piece.


Is it just a show for “wannabe” jugglers?

No, not at all. The reaction we have had so far shows us that it speaks to people across the board because it has a lot of dance references so, if the audience member is into dance, they will recognise a lot of the dance references. It really appeals to children as well because the kids see the humour in the piece – it does have a very funny side. It also has a slightly darker side that a lot of the adults usually pick up on, with references to the war and conflicts in relationships and, when it works well, it has all of those layers. 


Are you a lifetime juggler?

Yes, first and foremost I am a juggler. We have been running the company for 20 years now and initially, when we started, we were interested in opening up juggling which, when we started doing things, had either a circus form or an indoor form. It felt to us as if juggling had more potential as it is quite a good vocabulary to do more complicated things and we could us juggling as something more choreographable.  


Our early pieces were quite experimental and then, over time, we had gradually become more interested in the theatre side. Inevitably there is always a subtext to juggling which is “What happens if the person drops?” or “Are they telling me they are clever?” and, if so, “Why are they telling me that they are clever?” These things are always there, but they are not something that we deal with every day, so we are interested, and explore, all of that.


I was going to ask about that, what happens if it all goes horribly wrong?

Well in Smashed we have various strategies and, in fact, it usually works better if we have a few drops early on because we have things that we do if we drop that create a context for it. There are different kinds of routines in juggling. Our most terrifying routines are the ones we do to classical music which follow, exactly, the beat of the music where all the clubs are coded. You do seven throws with somebody and they end up with a red club that they need to use so, if you make a mistake, you make a mistake.


Will we notice?

In Smashed you would notice but, as I said before, they are almost a good thing – up to a point. Obviously there is a fine line but mistakes are a part of live performance. If one goes to hear an orchestra there is usually a number of little mistakes that are there. Statistics are on our side in that, most of the time, we drop less than is bad, but it’s a constant battle.


You have a very international company, where did you find them?

Well, the juggling world is really very small so we have, mostly, a good sense of who is around. At the moment, of the cast of Smashed, we have five performers who are based in the UK, although three of those are not from the UK, and four are based internationally. Mostly we have met our people in juggling festivals and we now have about 20 jugglers, performing in our various shows, and about three quarters of those are from abroad.


Does that present language issues? 

No, not really, there are many languages running round our company. At any given point we can be using up to six or seven languages but English is our universal language as most of the performers who work with us speak English.


Is Smashed a comedic performance, or is it serious?

Actually, it’s both, and perhaps that is its biggest strength. It has elements of both and, in fact, some of the scenes we made which we thought were a bit sinister and quite dark have ended up being the funniest scenes in the piece. When we created it I didn’t think it would be a funny show, but it has definitely become a funny show.


Smashed, by Gandini Juggling, can be seen at the Theatre Royal Brighton on May 22 – 23rd at 7.30pm and is recommended for age 8 and above.