Categorized | Arts

Juggling and Singing to Their Own Beat

Posted on 21 November 2012

The Flying Karamazov Brothers (in kilts)

By Annette Hinkle

Here are a few facts about “The Flying Karamazov Brothers:”

They are not Russian.

They are not trapeze artists.

They are not brothers.

What they are is a troupe of juggling musicians named for a Dostoevsky novel who are appearing this weekend at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center.

While “The Flying Karamazov Brothers” don’t go back as far as Dostoevsky, they do date to the early 1970s when the founders began as street artists in Santa Cruz, California. They’ve come a long way since those humble beginnings and make no mistake — these guys have a lot more going for them than an ability to keep several balls in the air while carrying a tune.

With a liberal dose of humor, agility and creativity the brothers have attracted quite a following over the years — they have been on Letterman, performed with the Grateful Dead and appeared with renowned symphony orchestras.

They also aren’t afraid to wear kilts — and frequently do.

Among the group’s signature acts is something called “The Terror Trick” in which nine objects are introduced at different points in their show — among them a fish, an egg, a meat clever and a torch. Toward the end of the performance, all nine objects are incorporated into a surprise airborne tableaux as a finale.

It’s that kind of showmanship — and teamwork — that has taken “The Karamazov Brothers” beyond the realm of simple juggling act. Rod Kimball should know — he’s seen the brothers at work from both sides of the stage.

Kimball was just a toddler when “The Flying Karamazov Brothers” were founded. But today, he is a full-fledged member of the troupe — and has been for 13 years.

“I was 17 when I started juggling and I first saw the Karamazov Brothers when I was 18,” says Kimball who was so smitten he considered asking if he could join the troupe’s road crew. “Then about 10 years later I had my audition after having seen them several times. I was a die hard fan and it was kind of a dream come true.”

For the record, the troupe’s name is inspired by “The Brothers Karamazov,” Dostoyevsky’s final novel published in 1880. It tells the story of four brothers and each troupe member adopts one of the novel’s characters as his stage name. Kimball explains the idea was born during a road trip when the four original troupe members were hitchhiking to the World’s Fair in Spokane, Washington in 1974.

“One of them, Howard Patterson, was reading the book and noticed the parallels — those four brothers and these four brothers and their personalities — and they picked names from the book according to those personality traits.”

“I think I’m the only member who hasn’t read it,” confides Kimball (a.k.a. Pavel).

And like any good Russian novel, the troupe’s name hasn’t come without it’s problems.

“Most people don’t know about the book,” says Kimball. “And though it sounds great, it implies to most that we are a trapeze group.”

In addition, Kimball adds that more than a few audience members have been disappointed when they’ve come expecting something a little more … well … literary.

“Russians will show up and expect Dostoyevsky and they will get up and leave,” confides Kimball. “It happened once a week in a run we did in New York. Usually they’re polite, then after intermission you see empty seats.”

“But there are also happy stories,” he qualifies. “Some come expecting Dostoevsky and they love it.”

Though the troupe’s target audience is adults, there’s nothing in their shows that is inappropriate for children — and though juggling is the mainstay of the brothers’ performances, it’s just the beginning of the skill set required.

“You need to be a musician and you also need stage presence,” adds Kimball. “Someone could be a juggler and a musician, but if they don’t bring something special and cool to the stage, it’s still not going to work.”

“You also have to be able to live with the person,” he adds. “You’re touring and sometimes there are 17 hour days. It doesn’t matter how great a performer someone is if you can’t get along with them.”

“Quite often this weird, collection of skills draws some strange people,” he adds. “Sometimes it’s better for everyone if they just do their own show.”

Kimball’s musical skill is as a trumpet guy — he can also manage the tuba, coronet or euphonium — and particularly interesting for him is the way in which the troupe merges music and juggling.

“We’ve discovered a lot of ways juggling can be a musical instrument,” says Kimball. “In one piece, we have gloves on with snaps in the palms to amplify the sound. The piece is in 5/4 time and all made of juggling, yelling and stomping.”

Among “The Karamazov Brothers” other signature pieces are “The Gamble” in which audience members offer up objects brought from home for a brother to juggle, and  “Jazz Juggling” an act constructed like a musical number with each brother offering a “solo.”

“‘Jazz Juggling’ is my favorite piece to watch and do because it’s based on the parallels between interactive juggling and jazz music,” explains Kimball. “We also talk about what we’re doing — it gives the audience a little look into the guts of the juggling machine.”

“The Flying Karamazov Brothers” perform at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center (76 Main Street, Westhampton Beach) at 7 p.m. on Saturday, November 24, 2012. Tickets are $20 to $35. Call 288-1500 or visit www.whbpac.org to purchase.

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