Alfredo Anceschi

Let’s be be honest: When one thinks about contemporary performance art, one does not immediately jump to juggling. And yet, in a field that seems to have exhausted the use of microphone as character, and nudity as truth, an earnest piece symbolizing life’s journey through hurled objects isn’t so out there upon further inspection.

UNTITLED_I will be there when you die marks the return of Italian Artist Alessandro Sciarroni as he continues the performance trilogy that he started with FOLK-S Will you still love me tomorrow? (TBA:15), a piece that deconstructed folk dancing to its bare core, to unravel life’s repetitions. Working in a similar vein, Sciarroni takes on the act of juggling, presenting the activity plainly, without spectacle, perhaps as a way of showing life’s successes and failures in each caught or dropped object.

The show starts simply and follows a natural progression. Four men walk onto the stage with juggling pins, take their places facing the audience, and then close their eyes in a moment of preparation. Soon, each juggler picks up an individual pin and begins to toss it in the air, some with sincere concentration on their faces, some with playful smiles. After some time, more pins are added, with each performer taking on more and more. The complexity of these tosses ramps up, as does the seriousness, as does the sweat, as does the fear of a pin being dropped. Two pins, three, four; at one point a juggler even juggles five at once. They toss the pins behind their backs, over their shoulders, up into the air all at once only to have to catch them as they fall back down at the same time.

All the while, Sciarroni sits offstage and live-scores the entire thing with an increasingly strenuous electronic soundtrack. All of this made for quite a thrill. The audience laughed when an amazing trick was displayed successfully. They winced and sighed when a pin was dropped. They clapped when the men eventually joined forces to create even more complex shapes and rhythms with the juggling pins. I was reminded of why I love seeing things like this live: for the collective experience in the room. At the curtain call, it was a pleasure to see people standing, clapping, laughing, whistling. It was safe to say that the show had been impressive.

But was it art?

Here’s the thing: You can’t hate on a juggling show. You just can’t. The tricks these guys were doing, the focus and practice and sheer will it took to stand up there in front of a live audience and try their best to not fuck it up—could you do that? I most certainly couldn’t. And in that respect, the show was awe-inspiring. Like, say, the Olympics, it’s always a reminder of just how amazing people can be when you see them do something that you yourself would find impossible.

So maybe the art was in the beauty of watching four men on stage doing something difficult together. Because I have to be honest—I didn’t find myself leaving the theater reflecting more on life’s frailty or the balancing act that is existence. But who’s to say that's the thought Sciarroni wanted to leave me with? Sure, the synopsis materials in PICA’s program made it sound like a heartbreaking work of staggering genius, but that’s what promotional materials for contemporary art festivals are supposed to do. Maybe Sciarroni just wanted us to feel like kids again, watching juggling for the first time. And if so, Sciarroni, you nailed it.

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