Gandini Juggling’s ‘Smashed2’ effectively expands upon themes of its striking predecessor

smashed2 review

MARIA BARANOVA

The Peak Performances series at Montclair State University will present Gandini Juggling’s “Smashed2” through April 24.

“Smashed,” the dance/theater piece that the London-based Gandini Juggling troupe presented at the Peak Performances series at Montclair State University in 2018, is a work for seven men and two women, with 80 apples and four crockery sets used as props. “Smashed2” — which is being presented at Montclair State this week, in its United States premiere, as part of Peak Performances’ current season — features seven women and two men, plus 80 oranges and seven watermelons. (“Ladies and gentlemen: Oranges and watermelons. Enjoy,” said one dancer, early in the show, as a kind of introduction.)

“Strained relations” between men and women are at the heart of “Smashed2.”

“Smashed” and “Smashed2” are not as different, though, as apples and oranges (or crockery sets and watermelons). Both include dazzling displays of synchronized juggling by the performers, and move from pristine order and good-natured clowning around, early on, to chaos, in the finales. Virtually all the props, in both works, end up getting smashed. And both works are intended to explore what Gandini Juggling describes as the “strained relations” between men and women

In “Smashed2” — directed by Gandini Juggling co-founder Sean Gandini, with his fellow co-founder Kati Ylä-Hokkala serving as assistant director and one of the dancers — the men, far outnumbered this time by the women, come off as even more buffoonish. They are forever trying to intrude upon the world of the women, who, clearly annoyed, endlessly rebuff them. Ultimately, the women lash out violently (and, in one memorable scene, in wrenching slow motion).

The men were the cruel ones in “Smashed.” This time, it is the women, and there is less of a calm return-to-order at the end.

“Smashed2” is a more intense expansion on “Smashed,” with “a darker, subversive sexual energy,” as the program puts it. The music is also more varied this time around, with a range from old-timey acoustic blues to opera, kitschy pop (“Zou Bisou Bisou”) and Roy Orbison’s melodramatic masterpiece “In Dreams.”

Dancers in “Smashed2.”

The juggling patterns also seem a little more complex, with the emphasis not so much on what an individual juggler can do, as on what nine of them can do, moving and juggling together. The oranges come to link the dancers, like some kind of life force, moving among them in intricate patterns. And no matter how difficult the movements become, no fruit gets dropped until, eventually, the smashing starts, and some of the surviving watermelon pieces gets eaten in a kind of frenzy. The juggling skills of the performers (one of whom was a last-minute, COVID-caused replacement, we were told after the cast took their bows) was truly remarkable.

Reviewing “Smashed” in 2018, I wrote, “I can guarantee that you’ll never see anything else like it.”

I was wrong. Because now we have “Smashed2.”

Remaining performances of “Smashed2” will take place at the Kasser Theater at Montclair State University, April 22 at 7:30 p.m., April 23 at 8 p.m. and April 24 at 3 p.m. Visit peakperfs.org.

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