By GWEN OREL
“I’ve never seen that before.”
If you saw “Smashed” by Gandini Juggling last week, making its American debut at Peak Performances, that was your mantra. Mouths dropped open as the troupe twirled, crawled, leaped, all the while keeping apples in the air — or deliberately smashing them.
The hourlong performance was “dance with benefits.”
By infusing modern dance with juggling, the dance is lighter and the juggling comes to earth.
And the patterns — the beauty of the patterns, as the apples go high on a certain beat of a measure, or arms spread wide before catching again — take your breath away. It’s as if the dancers have extra limbs.
MSU had a Contemporary Math class explore the patterns of juggling, jump rope, yo-yo and hula hoop. Sean Gandini, the troupe’s co-founder and director, told us last week that he was always fascinated by patterns, and by mathematics.
For this show, the company was inspired by the work of the late Pina Bausch, the late German choreographer whose dances often investigated gender politics. The nine dancers are made up of seven men and two women.
Music sets the mood: a classical piece contrasts the smashing. The Charioteers’ “Ezekiel Saw the Wheel” makes you smile.
The show is bookended by the odd song “I’ve Always Wanted to Waltz in Berlin” by Little Jack Little, whose lyrics include “ach du lieber factory.” It is really a song about bombing Germany during World War II, and waltzing in the rubble. The singer’s odd vocal scoops, the spare instrumentation, while a line of jugglers, dressed in suits and sweater vests, the women in black dresses, throw apples and strut — the effect is startling.
“Smashed” explores gender politics with humor.
In one scene, the two women, Ylä-Hokkala Gandini and Kim Huynh, juggle, while a group of men heckles first one, then the other. It’s both funny and disturbing. Funny, because the women never drop anything no matter how they are prodded or dragged. Funny, because it summons images of “he’s touching me.” Disturbing, because it’s a pack of men harassing a woman.
In a more heavy-handed scene, the women crawl past the men, who place apples on their backs, to “Stand By Your Man.”
But much of the show is far more loosely connected to that theme: at one point there’s a comic game of musical chairs as Gandini tries to sit after soloing in “That Cat Is High.”
And, in my favorite moment, Gumby-limbed Malte Steinmetz speaks about tea, then switches to German, then, in English, says he will sing a romantic song — but it is a comic march, and two jugglers act it out behind him. It’s a combination of John Cleese silly walks, Ray Bolger, and juggling.
And yes, there is a lunatic tea party. Everything gets smashed.
They are dancing in the rubble — as they had promised.