Volume 76, Number 48 | April 25 - May1, 2007

Rod Kimball, a.k.a. Pavel Karamazov, teaches skills on W. 25th St., like how to juggle and spin different-size balls while riding a unicycle.

Flying Karamazov Brother frequently lands in Chelsea

By Judith Stiles

It is the thrill of a lifetime for some jugglers to toss flaming torches and sharp sickles, but the fascinating part for master juggler Rod Kimball is how to handle a mistake, and how an artist can seamlessly improvise a misstep right back into a routine.

“Yes, in juggling you can’t have mistakes. But everyone gets tense sometimes, so when something drops, the interesting part begins,” said Kimball as he described how tricky it is to grab the handle of a razorlike sickle when it boomerangs back to the hand.

Kimball, 36, has been juggling for more than half his life and professionally since the late 1980s, as the newest member of the internationally acclaimed Flying Karamazov Brothers.

“We don’t think of ourselves as jugglers,” said another Brother, Howard Patterson. “Juggling is a thing that we really dig. But I think of it as theater, comedy, music, juggling, in that order.”

The themes of their acts are often rooted in literature, everything from “Don Quixote” to Shakespeare. They utilize speaking and singing as they delve into philosophical life questions, while the juggling serves as the backdrop or punctuation to their words. Sometimes two jugglers play the same instrument one-handed, while they juggle together with their remaining free hands. It is a rare and specialized talent to be able to split their brains between two activities, where the artists might all of a sudden have to focus jointly on a juggling misstep, without losing the rhythm and notes of the instrument being played simultaneously.

Besides multitasking juggling, a specialty of the Flying Karamazov Brothers is the Juggletron, which puts the jugglers in the center of a circle of six computer-driven drum pads, with the juggling’s motion producing various sounds in a six-octave range. Most of their acts over the years have been less high-tech and more of a minstrel genre, using acoustic instruments.

When young Kimball first saw the original Karamazov Brothers perform he became smitten with their work and offered to be a volunteer roadie, carrying their equipment. Lucky for Kimball, they were looking for a new Brother and after an audition, he got the part. Today, wedged in between his busy performing schedule, Kimball finds time to teach small group classes at Empire Dance on W. 25th St., where he imparts his jewels of information to beginners and accomplished jugglers.

“Many people view juggling as a kind of magic and they have the idea there are things that are too difficult to do, which holds them back,” said Kimball of his new students. His clever teaching approach is to erase all preconceptions in the student’s mind, such as juggling is too hard, too fast and too complicated. Then, having established a fresh outlook, he slowly starts to decode the methods of juggling, beginning with demonstrating the proper form of tossing a single ball in the air. Then he adds spinning and catching and how to focus the eye on a single point with each turn. Step by step, he works the student up to using three balls.

Kimball takes an almost meditative approach to teaching juggling, which requires a great deal of patience. Conquering a sustained juggling of four balls takes time, and novices should not expect to master juggling on a unicycle any time soon. However, experienced students can expect to get a fun-filled curriculum tailor made to their personal goals and Kimball will design it, drawing on his extensive expertise. He has a treasure chest of knowledge and a resumé a mile long.

The Flying Karamazov Brothers are recipients of an OBIE Award, an Emmy for Outstanding Entertainment Programming and a nomination for London’s Olivier Award. They have performed at the Vivien Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center, Alice Tully Hall and the Brooklyn Academy of Music, as well as appearing on “Seinfeld,” “Good Morning America” and “Great Performances” on PBS.

Besides the seemingly magical moments of accomplishment that can be found in Kimball’s classes, a real treat is the history of the Karamazov Brothers, found on their Web site, www.fkb.com, which takes one through a rollicking and hilarious journey of how they got hooked on juggling in the 1960s and never looked back.

Many years later, they continue their philosophical obsession with this so-called sport, sometimes performing a satire of the Indian epic “Mahabharata,” which they have renamed “Mwabogitba,” an acronym for Men With A Bit of Gray in Their Beards Association.

And with or without gray hair, people of all ages will be mesmerized by their next public performance at the Lehman Center for the Performing Arts in the Bronx on May 19. After that, the jugglers fly off to perform in Hong Kong at the International Arts Carnival, with suitcases full of balls, pins, trumpets, guitars, drums and perhaps carrying a copy of Dostoevsky’s “Brothers Karamazov,” a formidable read for the plane ride.

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