More than tossing cookies

The fuzzy Elmo backpack Jay Gilligan wore on stage when I saw him perform at the Bryant-Lake Bowl last February made him look more like a club kid who came to a rave six years too late than a postmodern master of object manipulation (read: juggler).

Paraphanalia aside, twenty-something Gilligan will bring his internationally acclaimed act to the Bryant-Lake Bowl on September 23. The techno-infused performance is far from vaudeville predictability.

Rhythmic movements and bright costume and props give the impression that he moonlights as a club kid who can only dance if he has several Talking Elmo Dolls to toss around.

“I call it object manipulation,” Gilligan says about his act (which includes bouncing a ball on his forehead while stacking rings around his neck). “The body is just something else to manipulate.”

Part of his body manipulation includes bending his left elbow in reverse of the direction it should go. And the Talking Elmo Dolls? Sometimes they act as a friend whom he directs the audience’s applause to and sometimes he hangs them from noose-like ropes, singing the alphabet a cappela as he rhytmically tosses them about.

His humor isn’t spent only on inanimate objects – the audience is also at the mercy of his control. Posing as if he wanted to shake my hand during the performance, he instead pulled me onto the stage and directed me, with an economic use of gestures and facial expressions, to stand hand-in-hand with another, haplessly stage-phobic, audience member.

After leaving the impression that he was about to perform the mother of all tricks using us, he scampered off the stage, leaving us like posable dolls who bend to the will of a child. And that was his finale.

Gilligan has been juggling since he was eleven, and he toured the United States with his act for ten years. After he was spotted in Las Vegas, he toured Europe during the last year.

Gilligan’s goal for his act is to take it past the vaudeville stereotype. He says that vaudeville costumes and music were good in the days when they were considered contemporary, but not as entertaining now. He acknowledges that calling his act “postmodern” is partly about marketing. “With ‘postmodern’ at least people are confused,” Gilligan says, noting that most people don’t want to “see some clown.”

Despite his prodigious success in the world of juggling and the seemingly self-absorbed title of a previous show (“100% Me”) Gilligan doesn’t seem eager to boast about himself. When asked whether it’s true that he holds the most gold medals of any juggler in the history of the International Jugglers Association, he shrugs and says, “That’s what they tell me.”

He moved to Minneapolis in September of 2000, citing the art community in the Twin Cities as a major attraction (besides Prince, who he is a fan of). Projectile and Ocean, the two techno djs he performed with on the night I went (Feb. 23) were also a reason that he came to the Twin Cities, though Gilligan plans to incorporate other genres of music, like folk, during his stint in the Cities.