Norma Cohen watches pupils learn to juggle I can juggle now, but I couldn't two days ago." A group of 12- and 13-year-old boys are enthusiastically rehearsing through their lunch hour, throwing orange balls into the air and deftly catching them under knees and behind backs.
The Year 8 students from the Wakeman School, Shrewsbury are taking part in a residency with Gandini Juggling Project. With school blessing, they've had the luxury of three full days to develop performance skills, continuing the school tradition of a yearly, full-time arts project to complement academic studies.
Diving into new territory between dance and juggling techniques, Gandini aims to explore the possibilities of object manipulation as a dance form, twisting and dissecting space using rings, balls, clubs, spiralling ribbons and ropes. A recent Camden schools residency used cans. Elastic, spongey objects, chairs, planks or sticks may provide further challenge.
Set up by Sean Gandini, one of the finest jugglers in the country with a life-long fascination with dance, the company of five offers several disciplines including rhythmic gymnastics and acrobatics alongside "conventional" juggling and dance, teaching basic ball control (passing, throwing and co-ordination) with elements of choreographic structure and, if pressed, divulging the "flashy tricks" that students clamour to learn. "We usually start with a simple exploration of how rolling and catching objects can turn into movement. You don't need formal juggling skills, just a space and you're away."
In a school hall littered with ropes and rolled strips of ribbon, 20 students develop sequences deriving from three-ball juggling. Cricket and ball game practice give boys the edge, balanced by the girls' facility for dance, but the malefemale divide evaporates as concentration on manipulating objects, lassooing and jumping into a giant, knotted rope, dispels embarrassment.
Upstairs in the music room, eight Year 9 students work with composer Steve Wiliams, blending noises (traffic, fountains, petshop animal noises, bells, whistles, whispering and laughter). Using a sound-sampler, keyboards, mixing desk and two-computer sequencer, they'll adapt these musical "roughs" into a soundtrack.
Dancers wind into Chinese puzzles. The scene represents a leisurely match of croquet or bowls broken by homemade Maypole rituals, a tripleknotted Houdini or jester tangled in ribbons, even water aquatics. It's a mix of athletics, dance, juggling and play.
Gandini Juggling Project: 0171 278 0268.