Peter Davison is a juggler with a difference. He is co-artistic director of the Boulder Ballet Company, where he has danced roles ranging from Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet to Herr Drosselmeyer in the annual Nutcracker, and has won the National Juggling Championship both as an individual and with his one-time group Airjazz.
For him juggling's not just about technical proficiency or the number of balls and clubs he can keep flying through the air. As a performer, Davison has musicality, humor, elegance, technical skill, playfulness, and an oddly personal relationship with the objects he juggles -- as seen on this video of his work (on the next page).
For the "Johnny Carson Show" some years back, he made pure air music out of a fountain of spinning white balls. His latest one-man show,Junk
, plays at Boulder'sDairy Center for the Arts
this weekend and focuses on things that have been discarded.
"I found out when I was practicing as a kid that numbers juggling was not my bag," he says. "It drove me to do more things with fewer objects, and the focus shifted from skill presentation to a more choreographic design presentation." Most jugglers work with a minimum of physical movement, but Davison brings his dance background to the performance, and "If you're traveling around the space and trying to do juggling patterns at the same time, doubles or triples or quadruples, it's a lot harder."
In Junk -- which works at levels both kids and adults can appreciate -- Davison portrays the kind of little tramp featured in early vaudeville. He finds himself at a curb beside a fence, with all kinds of discards around him: flower pots, trashcans, an old sink.
"Props have their own movement qualities," he says. "You can set a trashcan wobbling and dance around it while it's doing its own dance or get tires spinning in their own circles. You can treat them like dance partners. It's about finding ways they like to move and ways they really don't. It can be frustrating sometimes. My process is starting to work, improvising and setting things moving--and often I get surprised. I always keep my eyes open in the kitchen or when I'm walking down the street: a breeze knocks something over, and it does a little skip and starts spinning and creates a sort of cartoony effect and you realize the center of gravity isn't where you thought it was."
Davison teaches a pas de deux class for Boulder Ballet. The teenage boys who've taken his juggling classes always make the best partners, he says. "She's on pointe and there's that sensitivity and being able to react to somebody spinning, and knowing how to stop her after she's done it a certain number of times. Of course," he adds laughing, "with the ballerina it's a relationship. Master something with an object and it's always the same. People differ. Sometimes they're wiggly."
Junk was inspired by the vaudeville era, which saw a revival in the 1980s, but has since fallen by the wayside: "My character is somebody who's been thrown out the way vaudeville got thrown out when TV came along. But even if a thing's junky, it can still have value, still be surprising and new. We're all onto the next best thing and we've thrown this tramp character into the trashcan, but there's still life in him."