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The Karasel of Progress
Wed, May 7 2008
"I Can Rap to the Beat But I Don't Know How to Change My Ways"
Mood:  not sure
Topic: Routines

First of all, kudos to the first person able to tell me who said the lyric in this post's title.

What is style and how do we find our own?  Sometimes I think others tell you what your style is, and often it's not what you want.  Even in the small community that we call juggling, everyone's known for a certain 'thing'.  For Thomas Dietz to stop being the amazing numbers juggler that he is and switch to creative three club manipulation would shock us.  That's not what he does.  It's not his "style".  But like I said, people have often told me that I have a "style" or that my style has become more "developed" and honestly I'm not sure what they mean.  It could just be a comment that they think I want to hear.  Or it could mean that they have some idea of Michael Karas brand juggling that I haven't quite hit yet.

However, it's not like I'm clueless.  I do realize that many of my performances have common elements.  More than 50% of my pieces have been set to hip-hop music.  And almost 100% of my pieces have been tightly (and I mean tightly) choreographed to the music, so much so that a drop means the audience misses a boxcar or two while I try to hop back onto the train.

I really enjoy this style and I think my audiences do too.  But like Stevenson, I've reached a fork in the road, and I'm thinking about switching directions for a little bit.  Let me explain why.

I am really a mystery to myself.  If you watch any Michael Karas videos, you will notice that I have a minor obsession with PATTERNS.  I think all jugglers do, sure, but only on one video - Kineticut - have I bothered to attempt anything like a "sequence" on film.  I love symmetry.  I love ambidexterity.  I like clutter.  By "clutter", I mean that there's not a lot of air in my patterns.  To illustrate, 97531 has very little air whereas 94444 has a lot of air.  Siteswap "3" is so my friend that I've considered making a DVD completely dedicated to the exhaustive study of the cascade in all its forms.

However, if you've watched my work onstage, especially my ball work which is the most advanced of all three major props, you'll notice that pattern is almost absent.  Especially in my latest 3b work in progress (Kiss Kiss) I spend very little time with recognizable patterns, instead focusing on using the objects to visually enhance the lyrics.  You can find this routine here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RnbNKHQBmxs

I focused so much on enhancing the lyrics in building this piece that I repeated the chorus sequence every time the chorus was sung.  This obviously made choreography go by quicker because I only had to choreograph the chorus once.  I have been very surprised to hear multiple (more than 5) people come up to me at conventions and tell me that my "idea" to repeat the chorus section was brilliant.  This has surprised me, but also makes me realize that I may be a pioneer in this idea.

Anyway, no one ever sees the hours of grueling work and discarded choreography that go into finally publishing a work like "kiss kiss" on stage.  I usually love the end product, but the choreography is such a pain-stakingingly slow process. 

So here is my conundrum: in practice and in making videos, I absolutely love working on patterns - repeatable, lovely little 'creatures' (as Sean Gandini calls them) that tickle my brain.  When it comes to making a routine though, I focus so much on illustrating music/lyrics that years of pattern research go out the window and I end up with a cool albeit totally different product that relies on sequences more than patterns.

Some jugglers do exactly as I don't.  They have a piece of music that is 8-10 minutes long.  They have about 7 minutes of material.  The music is such that it can be faded at any time.  Therefore they drop and then try the same trick again.  Novel idea, ain't it?  I'm sure this is actually probably the majority.  Usually when you see a juggler drop, they pick up and try the same trick again in order to "defeat" it. 

I've never built a piece like this, except when I'm improvising on stage but that's a whole different beast.  While talking with Francis Julien in Montreal, he told me that my "sort" of piece is one that allows no breathing room.  It's basically true.  As he described, you get out there, you do your 3-4 minutes right to the music, you drop once or twice, curse silently in your head, and then get off stage, breathing heavily and wondering what just happened. 

How much greater to create a piece that has breath?  That has room for error? I've never really tried it before.  Perhaps then, with a piece like this, I could focus on what my body tells me that I truly love - patterns and shapes!  Not that I want to create a piece that is literally a list of patterns that I show to the audience one after another.  But - that is a side of me (Pattern Boy!) that people see and love in my videos that is sorely missing from my stage appearances.  There's a real discrepancy between the two mediums in my opinion at this point, and I am considering trying to be consistently pattern-based, at least for a while.

Or, more importantly, even if I create a routine based very much on sequences, I want to try to allow myself some breathing room.  As Francis says, every routine can for the most part be divided up into counts of eight, like in dance.  These can then be applied to any song at any point within the song.  Just keep the beat of the song going constantly in your head and you can pick up from anywhere.  I must admit that hip-hop may not be the best music for this new direction.

Don't get me wrong - I'll always love creating airtight 3 ball sequences to beats that I love, but I can't get stuck into a "style" at the age of 23.  Not yet.  I can juggle a lot better than most people think, but I need to give myself some stage time.  Time for error.  Time for breath.  Time for surprise.  Time for recognition of the audience.  A race car ride instead of a rollercoaster.  Something without tracks.


Posted by Michael at 3:39 PM EDT
Updated: Wed, May 7 2008 4:22 PM EDT
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