Catching the Ephemeral
Alessandro Sciarroni and his jugglers frame and freeze the fleeting
By Mozart Pastrano
It began with the simple toss of a pin. A juggler locked eyes with the audience as his right hand, then his left, one after the other, seized it and threw it back in the air and snatched it again and again without looking at it or dropping it. Three men behind him — like him, wearing T-shirts, denim pants, and sneakers in neutral colors against a backdrop as white as the juggling pins — followed his lead. Soon, they were hurling two pins, then three, four, and five: throwing them behind their backs, twirling around in show-offy pirouettes, and grabbing each other’s flying objects.
In Alessandro Sciarroni’s UNTITLED__I will be there when you die, presented at La Mama in collaboration with the Crossing the Line Festival, juggling was transformed from a circus entertainment for showing off extraordinary skills into a meditation on art. By manipulating sensory experience, Sciarroni and his jugglers (Lorenzo Crivellari, Edoardo Demontis, Victor Garmendia Torija, and Pietro Selva Bonino) pushed moments of beauty and power into the monumental and memorable, exploring how art makes the ephemeral seem eternal. Their conceit, and triumph, was that in the span of a spectacular hour, it was as if the fleeting was somehow frozen in the eyes, and mind, of the beholder.
A clue that UNTITLED had metaphysical matters on its mind came early in the performance. As the jugglers displayed their prowess with the pins, a satisfying thwack punctuated the action each time a pin hit a hand. And then, suddenly, there was silence. Nothing else had changed — the synchronized rise and fall of arms still sent the slender pins somersaulting in the air — but the jugglers were now mindfully seizing the pins with a tender touch. The sound they were making was like a hushed whisper, drawing the audience into some kind of conspiracy.
Then, from a sound board at stage left, a fifth man (Pablo Esbert Lilienfeld, who was DJ’ing live) upped the ante. He had apparently recorded the thwacking sounds and was now throwing them back at the performers, tinkering with the volume this way and that: sound itself became an object for juggling.
Later on, the footlights threw the jugglers’ shadows onto the white screen behind them: larger-than-life images juggling also for attention.
This deliberate, layered choreography of all the juggling onstage seemed to toss off whatever preconceived notions one might have had about juggling as merely a streetside distraction. Sciarroni and his performers celebrated juggling as the human achievement that it is while reconfiguring it, too, as a thrilling vocabulary to mull over art and its ability to seduce and surprise us, and make us think in radically new ways — even about art itself. What began as a solitary juggler’s repetition of routine, picked up randomly by the other performers, became a chorus of synchronized movement that broke off into increasing levels of difficulty, if not complexity. But what could have simply been a mesmerizing recital of mastery and showmanship leaped into the realm of the knowing wink. By engineering and editing the artistic encounter, Sciarroni and his team were no longer just doing things. They were making a commentary about what they were doing, and letting us in on it.
One juggler worshipped his pin as an idol ensconced on his forehead. All of them plucked pins from the air and pretended to be cavemen clubbing intruders to death. They flaunted their pins as if these were phallic totems and tossed them about gleefully, like adult jokes about their manhood. One juggler sneaked up on a fellow juggler intimately, as if to whisper in his ear or plant a kiss. The other juggler was taken aback and dropped his pin. Could it be that a portion of the show’s title was whispered? “I will be there when you die.” The title seemed to be juggling between being a lie or a fervent hope, for who knows when or where or in what circumstances the final moment comes? All we can ever do is juggle our earthly concerns against the clock’s tick tock tick tock. In this passing life of so much juggling, art frames and freezes moments into memory and meaning, gaining transcendence over the gravitational pull of all our mortality.
The jugglers began dropping their pins midway through the performance. But they picked them up and started over or moved on to something else. It’s as if they attained something better than perfection: happiness, maybe, and the warm satisfaction of camaraderie for having nonetheless done something remarkably well together. They smiled as they began to turn toward each other. They were still slicing the air and strutting their stuff, but they were no longer on their own. They were enjoying each other’s company in the sudden searing white light. Smack at center stage, they faced each other, as if in final confrontation, or communion. After a false start, they threw everything they had up in the air, snatching each other’s pins, and tossing them again against the pull of gravity — a constellation of ideas about resistance and coming together and the great big lie or hope about being present in all-knowing love and perfection, which, at this moment of art-making, was amazingly not a lie.