There is nothing quite like watching a master at work. No matter what that work may be, when someone who loves what they are doing so completely it’s hard not to be captivated by their enthusiasm. Wes Peden is a master juggler. He holds a degree in juggling from Sweden’s Dans och Cirkushögskolan and has won awards from the International Juggling Association and the festival Cirque de Demain. But it is not just his technical skill that makes him stand out. It his ability to turn juggling from a fun five-minute distraction into an art form that can hold a full-length show on its own.
‘This is the reason I’m alive’, he says so confidently that no-one questions why someone would dedicate their life to juggling. Instead we’re left feeling why more people don’t. It’s fast, it’s funny, and it can make you look at things in a whole different way – at least when Peden does it, it can. At one point he takes standard juggling clubs and spins them so fast the narrow end of the clubs blur into what look like little tails and I start to see fish somersaulting playfully. Couple this with a soundtrack of ambient electro-pop and directional lighting, which creates a shadow puppet effect behind, and Peden has us hypnotised in a meditative trance.
This is just one of several short pieces in the 55-minute show which use juggling to create captivating images and optical illusions. Peden says he was inspired by the geometric shapes and playful compositions of Kandinsky’s paintings. As the title Zebra suggests, the images are all created in black and white, with Peden dressed in a black sports kit with added white fringing. As he describes it: “a cross between a basketball player and an antique lamp”.
In an act filled with humour and energy, Peden throws balls, spins hoops, speed skips, balances a huge tripod on his forehead, plays keepy-ups on his elbows, and invents increasingly astonishing ways of taking a vinyl LP from its sleeve. It’s juggling, its circus, it’s performance art, and it’s joyous.★ ★ ★ ★
Gandini Juggling presents Zebra by Wes Peden at The Lowry, Salford Quays on 20 January 2020.