Jugglers’ festival back in Winston Salem

By Laura Smith

Greensboro News & Record/ Go Triad

Keith Nelson, producer of Club Renegade, a free, latenight edgier show performed each night of the festival.

Keith Nelson, producer of Club Renegade, a free, latenight edgier show performed each night of the festival.

Growing up in Southern California, Dan Holzman never thought about the oranges that grew on the trees in his backyard as anything but fruit — until he started juggling them.

 Teaching himself to juggle from a book at age 13, Holzman took up the activity full time, working with Barry Friedman of the comedy juggling team the Raspyni Brothers and opening for acts such as Robin Williams and Billy Crystal, as well as appearing on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” All the while, he was involved with the International Jugglers’ Association and attended 25 of its annual festivals.

His involvement with the IJA during his career led him to become the director for the Cascade of the Stars show at the IJA annual festival, which comes to Winston-Salem July 13-19 for the second time in three years. This year’s 62nd festival will be the first time it has returned to a festival site. The festival first came to Winston-Salem’s Stevens Center in 2007 for its 60th anniversary.

“We returned to Winston- Salem because it’s such a perfect venue,” said Mike Sullivan, IJA festival director. “The city is so beautiful and so adapted for our needs.”

A nonprofit organization, the IJA was founded in 1947 in Pittsburgh. It’s the oldest and largest juggling organization in the world with more than 1,500 members. Most of its members are entertainers who perform in circus acts, on cruise ships and other similar venues, Sullivan said.

The 62nd festival has something for everyone, including shows (for kids and adults), competitions, open juggling hours and a youth showcase. The main show of the festival is the Cascade of Stars, featuring world-class acts on July 17. Performers include individuals from Europe, Asia, North America and South America and acts such as two-time IJA individual medalist Greg Kennedy, who recently signed to perform with Cirque de Soleil, and Michael Chirrick, son of legendary juggler Lottie Brunn and nephew of Francis Brunn, considered one of the all-time greatest jugglers.

Then there’s Club Renegade, which has “an anything goes policy,” producer Keith “Bindlestiff” Nelson said. “It can surprise anyone.”

Club Renegade is a free late-night, edgier show performed three nights during the festival and produced by Nelson.

“Club Renegade definitely allows for some fun entertainment,” said Nelson, a Winston-Salem native who created the Bindlestiff Family Circus with his wife, Stephanie Monseu, 15 years ago.

Nelson brought Club Renegade to the festival as a late-night outlet for the shows, he said. Any performer involved in the IJA, whether amateur or professional, can be a part of Club Renegade.

Some of the acts include slam poetry, performance art, frightening stunts, juggling and the Unicycle of Death, an 8-foot-tall unicycle used by IJA member Crash. Crash got into juggling as a child when he would help his father, a carpenter, hold his tools.

“Being hyperactive, I never could just hold them,” he said. “I threw them up and caught them. My father called it ‘getting flippy.’

“I love juggling because practicing juggling gives me a constant sense of improvement,” he said. “The act of juggling forces something we don’t get very often, which is use of both the right brain and the left brain.”

Festival organizers are hoping to draw crowds who may not normally be as familiar with the juggling scene. For them, it is both a sport and an art.

“It’s like a secret art form that takes an eccentric person to appreciate,” Holzman said. “You are creating an art that is in front of you.”

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