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Flash Review 1, 11-20: Kinesthetic Haiku
Moschen in Motion: Valorizing Nature

By Rosa Mei
Copyright 2000 Rosa Mei

If Houdini had been reincarnated as a juggler cum mover extraordinaire, he'd look something like Michael Moschen, seen Friday at the Joyce Theater. Anything but your garden variety street juggler peddling a few tricks and winks, Moschen has elevated juggling into the realm of high art, all the while appealing to the masses. As he rolls crystal balls in his hands, the balls turn into water droplets gliding across his skin; at times, they seem to float above hands. No strings attached. In fact, part of Moschen's sublime magic is making the balls appear to have a life of their own, like little animated creatures. Playful, blithe and humble -- much like the performer himself.

Moschen's finest works come across as kinesthetic haiku. His props, both small and grand, are sculptures in themselves. In fact, it's not hard to believe that one of his jobs early on in his career was working as a street juggler in front of the Museum of Modern Art. Some of his set pieces, which double as props and movement partners, are so fabulously sculpted, you'd think that he had lifted an installment directly out of the MOMA. Moschen's poetic compositions valorize nature, color, and abstract symbolism. In a few terse measures, he is able to create a miniature universe.

In his opening piece, "Light," Moschen begins by rolling crystal balls in his hand, running them through his fingers and across his arms like water. Gradually, he releases each ball (or is he spawning?) until each becomes an autonomous creature. He then travels to point 2 in space, where he begins spinning a metallic blade bent in the shape of a teardrop. The asymmetrical shape morphs as he rotates it. Metal becomes salt-water taffy. He moves to point 3 and plucks a semi-circular blade from the sky. He starts to spin it. Or is the blade spinning him? He places the arc on the floor and takes one of the crystal balls and lets it fall along the surface of the blade. Succumbing to gravity, the ball begins it's own oscillatory path along the blade. No longer inert, it assumes a life of its own. The spotlight moves from the creator to the object created.

These whimsical transmogrifications are the stuff of myth and fairy tales. Little Timmy wakes from his dream, lands in Paradise and sees a man with rings and snakes and light floating around his body. Look ma, it's magic. And it's not completely immune to a little kitsch. A little dry ice here, a little portentous mood lighting there. Pump in the transcendental new age music, add an oscillating light beam and spotlights aiming for the heavens, and it's enough to make a believer out of the most jaded agnostic.

But even for the super left-brainers, there's a whole portion of Moschen's work that appeals to the mind, not just the spirit. In fact, when he bounces balls in a massive 10-foot triangle redefining 3-D space, and later, when he tosses balls against a glowing Lucite circle and has them rebound onto a metal circle hanging above it, he creates pure mathematical mind games: complex rhythmical patterns, syncopated music and particle physics with a little soft-shoe thrown in for good measure. I mean, the man didn't get a MacArthur "Genius" Grant just for juggling.

Rawer pieces such as "Time" and "Sticks/Vectors" seem more like works in progress, thumbnail sketches of great things to come. You can see the process, the mind at work, the search for the next crystalline concept. Moschen now works solo, no longer collaborating with other performers as he did in the 1980s. As he said in Newsday, "I've never found anyone who has the patience that I have to let a piece germinate for so long, and then work as hard as I do at it -- at something that's so stupid." A few times, the orange ball doesn't bounce back onto the tin as planned and Moschen reaches to grab the stray creature. No matter. If he were any more perfect than he already is, you wouldn't believe that he's human. And that's what makes him a master. A true virtuoso.

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