Jay Gilligan is rightfully called a master juggler and a visual artist. He has performed in 38 countries; he teaches circus arts in Europe; and he specializes in creating groundbreaking tricks that are uniquely his.
He's coming to the Jones Center in Springdale Nov. 11 for "REFLEX," described as a "breathtaking stage production that builds an unlikely, but beautiful, relationship between space exploration and the art of juggling." It's part of the FamJam series of themed Saturdays for families that continues through May 2024.
Gilligan answered four questions for What's Up!
Q. Where did you grow up? How did you fall in love with juggling? Who or what inspired you?
A. I was born in Arcadia, Ohio, and grew up there. There was a 4-H club called the Smiling Faces Unicycle Group, and one of their members rode her unicycle at recess time in my kindergarten class. I first learned how to unicycle, but because a unicycle has no handlebars, I needed something to do with my hands while riding. So I learned to juggle from reading a book at the library. I started performing when I was 8 years old and traveled all over the country doing shows until I first performed internationally when I was 16.
Q. How did you go about making juggling a career?
A. I never intended to juggle for a living; I had seen older performers who kind of ended up hating juggling, but only did it to make money. And I loved juggling so much that I couldn't imagine a life where I didn't want to do it anymore for fun. But it's turned out not to be a problem. One great thing about juggling is that you're never done. There's always more things to learn or invent. I have several lifetimes of work to do, ideas I'm excited to try, just need more time. So I don't think my enthusiasm for juggling will ever run out even though it's been the only job I've ever had.
Q. Do you have any tips for youngsters dreaming that dream?
A. One thing I always tell the students [in the circus schools where he teaches] is that the things which got me the furthest in life were the things that were the most personal. So instead of trying to do what everyone else is doing, try to find things that are very special to yourself. I wish I would have known that earlier in my juggling life. I always had a love of making my own material, but I also spent a lot of time learning the classic routines and tricks. It was always my own tricks which got me hired to the biggest and best shows of my life.
Q. How did the idea for "REFLEX" come about?
A. I thought it would be fun to make a show in a different style than what currently exists in the performing arts world. Lots of contemporary circus shows are very abstract, and that has been much of my career. Because juggling is an abstract art form for sure, it's not good at expressing linear narrative such as storytelling or even song writing. But I really wanted to share with the audience how I experience juggling after all these years. I wanted them to see juggling through my eyes.
In our society, as a culture, we normally view juggling as a trick where you either catch the ball or you drop it. One of the most common responses when someone sees juggling is to say, "Oh, I could never do that." Which confronts some sort of skillful challenge that we normally see juggling as. But "REFLEX" doesn't ask anyone to compare their ability to me when I'm on stage. Instead the show allows people to relax and experience images that have never existed before. The juggling is given space to become its own thing, separated out from ego or competition. When you hear a beautiful piano concerto, your first thoughts aren't about how fast the fingers need to be moving in order to create those melodies, you simply sit back and live those emotions. The juggling in "REFLEX" hopes to achieve this same response.
WHEN -- 2 p.m. Nov. 11
WHERE -- The Jones Center in Springdale
COST -- $10
INFO -- thejonescenter.net/famjam-reflex-jay-gilligan
BONUS -- The $10 fee also includes a movement class for kids and adults at 10 a.m.; ice skating from 12:30-2:30 p.m. and 7-9 p.m.; and swimming from noon to 6 p.m. as part of the FamJam series.