Gandini Juggling: Life review – a joyful love letter to Merce Cunningham

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<span>Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

As niches go, a work that combines a tribute to the great American choreographer Merce Cunningham with juggling is a particularly narrow one. Yet the odd thing about Life, which launched the London international mime festival last week, is just how universal and all-embracing it feels.

I for one am not a fan of mime or circus. I have always admired the works of the Cunningham more than I have loved them. Yet this act of affection is surreally life-enhancing and joyful.

Its pivots are Gandini Juggling’s founders, Sean Gandini and Kati Ylä-Hokkala, who seem in love with the mathematical and philosophical purity of juggling, and Jennifer Goggans, a former Cunningham dancer who has learned to juggle. The resulting piece recreates excerpts from the choreographer’s works and his distinctive style, but with the twist that balls, hoops and clubs arc through the air to add their own parabolas, rises and geometric lines to his sharp jumps and angled limbs.

Accompanied by Caroline Shaw’s music and Guy Hoare’s sublimely simple lighting, Life has a serene beauty, a geometric poetry, that satisfies the eye and dazzles the mind. To begin with, it is all rapid movements, and white balls shooting upwards in seemingly uncanny motion; later the dancers freeze into slo-mo groups, their intricate movements functioning like an elaborate machine.

Related: Give it up for Gandini, the jaw-dropping jugglers – in pictures

At one moment, Gandini stops the action with a randomness of which Cunningham would have been proud, to explain that they are about to recreate a particular piece. One performer demonstrates the original version; two men stand together to create a four-handed creature to elaborate on the theme.

There’s a pure pleasure in the cleverness of all this; the performers are uniformly transfixing, their smiles utterly infectious. It feels like a very good way to start the year.

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