You might think that two people on a small studio stage juggling for an hour without a storyline, without any dialogue, without even any flaming batons might get a bit boring. But this show left me spellbound, wanting to watch it all over again. Jérôme Thomas and his juggling partner Martin Schweitzke, together with Jean Francois Baez on the accordion, weave true magic. There are no theatrical tricks and no death-defying feats here – the set, a simple black space with a table, a park bench and a chair; the props, two sets of white silicone balls and a brief appearance from empty plastic bags and three white feathers; and the costumes, loose, unglamorous outfits with all the mismatched chic of the well-versed street act. And yet, I was on the edge of my seat. What we witness is the transformational magic that engulfs and electrifies a performer when they share their skill, their talent and their passion. The human suddenly becomes intimate, delicate and fragile, and at the same time magnificent, powerful and liberated. What is heroic about this performance is the level of commitment to the art, the intense and yet playful focus, so that when things don’t go to plan and a ball drops, as things and especially balls tend to do, there is no wavering or doubt, just instant return to a calm centre.
The first time we see the jugglers, they stand simply, side by side, arms outfolded holding a single white ball in one hand. They interlock an arm and begin a simple routine of passing the ball hand to hand. In our logical minds, following the balls’ pathways should be an easy visual exercise. And yet such is the tight choreography, the mutual physical trust and the comic presence, we almost immediately lose an intellectual grip on the detail of what is happening. Who is passing to whom, and which hand belongs to which performer? It becomes a clever and funny game, delightful, complex and brilliant. Compagnie Jérôme Thomas, and this I think is why I like them so much, demand us to suspend reasoning and logic, and to let ourselves respond instinctively to what we see without having to think about it. We are allowed and encouraged to watch from a child’s point of view and to enjoy the delight that it brings.
With folk rhythms, lyrical chords and rousing melodies from the accordion, the music is not simply accompaniment in this show. There are moments, for example when Thomas ‘juggles’ in a spotlight with three small white feathers, placing them consecutively into space and chasing to keep them airborne, when the positioning of hugely evocative live accordion under delicate physical mime work is deeply moving. Fundamentally, the music is integral in the rhythms of the show, both emotionally as is this example and literally. Thomas has not only trained in circus and cabaret but has a history of working in jazz, and this passion informs the show. Using bounce juggling, precise rhythmic movement and voice, some routines become literally percussive as the balls hit the air, the table and the floor, and Thomas claps, stamps and skats in dialogue with Jean Francois Baez on the accordion.
Architects of air, body percussionists, dancers, comics and skilled technicians, Jérôme Thomas’ company is mesmerising, and this piece is an evocative testimony to human commitment, heroism and the power of play.