Luke B’s Guide to Creating a Diabolo Routine

Over at the diabolo.ca forum someone posted a video of diabolo act that I posted here a few weeks ago. After adding a bit about the history of the routine, Marky J asked a good question:

My show is isn’t really choreographed that tightly and the tricks I attempt normally depend on the crowd, conditions, and how confident I’m feeling. How did you go about constructing your diabolo act? A list of tricks you know you wanted to get in or just trying to think what would look smooth?

I wrote the following reply (and see the original post for a few more insights):

Hi Marky J,

I was planning on writing up some workshops for those taking part in next year’s BYJOTY show, with a view to improving the standard of acts and awarding the first ever Gold Award. You asking this was a good motivation to get something about diabolo routines out there. Thanks for the inspiration!

Luke B’s Guide to Creating a Diabolo Routine:

The biggest secret in any kind of professional/successful juggling/diabolo routine is noticeable variation. So many routines I’ve seen go at a single pace, with long stretches of tediously similar tricks.

I created my act by doing (very roughly) the following:

- I wrote down a list of TYPES of tricks. Do it yourself; you’ll get something like this…
high throws (with something underneath)
diabolo circling a body part
knots
grinds
suicides
diabolo movement tricks
stupid tricks
vertax
etc.

- Within each category, write down ten tricks you can do simply, ten times in a row, without drops or tangles. If they are tricks you invented yourself, so much the better.

- From each of those ten tricks, discard seven, leaving the three most interesting. They should each be different enough so that when you do all three in a row, an unknowledgeable audience will be able to see three distinct techniques. And yet, as they are the same type, they obviously fit together in a natural way.

- Put the sets of tricks in an interesting order.

*stop* A bit (a lot, actually) about ordering tricks in routines:

- Each prop has an “essence”, a natural state in which it falls.
Clubs do single flips in the air.
Balls travel in simple paths.
Rings fly sideways to the audience.
Diabolos spin and move in a plane.
More importantly, diabolos are NOT tied to the string like yo-yos.
- When beginning a routine, you must first establish this essence with your audience.
Eg: With clubs, don’t start with reverse spins or flat throws.
More pertinent Eg: With a diabolo, make sure you do some THROWS near the start of the routine. Get the damn thing OFF THE STRING!
- Also, dramatic tension is created when an object is airborne, or in a motion that isn’t assured to land perfectly and safely. This is why juggling is intrinsically interesting to watch, and club swinging isn’t (sorry club swingers).
- Work progressively from the “home sate” of a prop to ever more different and extreme states.
- Each new set of skills should introduce a new concept or element. My routine goes like this:
Diabolo not attached to string (throw from hand)
Diabolo can move side to side, up and down, and in circles.
Can leave the string (throws).
Can be bounced on the string up high.
Can do stuff low to the ground too (I even say this when doing a “talky” show).
I can do it standing sideways (ok, not that interesting)
Round a body part (leg is really visible, and I keep this up for the first applause of the act).
Turn in circle.
OH s**t I LET GO OF THE STICK!
Pause for applause.
Cats cradle.
Pirouette
double pirouette.
Stick grind.
Two handed whip catch (used to make a point about having my arms crossed, but audiences didn’t get it, so now I move on quickly).
Pause for applause.
Ok… I can do stupid stuff using my mouth.
String around neck (done kneeling down for added height variation).
Magic knot.
Long setup with a wait… what’s coming next?
Blind behind the back one handed whip catch! On the F**KING MUSIC TOO!

Ok, that was a big trick. And how did it end? With the diabolo STOPPED and MOTIONLESS. This is the first time I’ve REALLY broken away from the essence of the diabolo. This is a VERY clear sign to the audience that they should be clapping around about now, because there is nothing else for them to be doing. The diabolo is no longer the center of attention, there’s only me, on stage, and I’m lapping it up.

Right… now in my talking version of this routine I say “Two more styles of one diabolo to finish” and go on to do:
One handed diabolo (infinite suicide stuff after a setup)
Oh, to make it really clear I’m only using one hand I take off my hat with the spare hand. If people weren’t clapping already, they do when I show them this. Why? It’s not any more difficult… but if you can guess why, you’re already starting to understand performing.
“Drunken style diabolo” (otherwise known as vertex)
Again I end right on the music. Ending a section or the routine on a musical cue is more important than doing any single trick to a musical cue.

*End bit about ordering tricks!*

- So, now you have a loooong list of tricks, maybe 30 or 35. Doing all of them will take maybe five minutes, and you want your first routine to last, at most, 3 minutes.

- Do all the tricks in order. You’ll naturally find some nice transitions between the different skills.

- Don’t make all the transitions TOO smooth. At some points break, let the audience understand that what is coming next is going to be new and different.

- If you drop on a trick more than twice in row, remove it from the routine.

- If a trick is taking too long and you don’t find it different/impressive enough, remove it from the routine.

- Keep removing tricks from the routine until each different style of trick is expressed as clearly and as cleanly as you can possibly show it.

Ok, at this point you’re really starting to get somewhere! Want to go further?

- Find a piece of music that has some clearly audible changes along the way (selecting suitable music is a whole post in itself).

- Play the track on repeat.

- Run through the routine over and over, and you’ll soon find yourself matching the different parts of the music up to the different sections in your routine.

- To make things fit better, swap around the sections, or extend some tricks.

- Whatever you do, make sure you get your first round of applause NO LATER than 45 seconds into the routine, and no earlier than maybe 30 seconds. Do this by repeating a trick until you get them to clap, or stopping (completely stopping, as in; catch the diabolo in your hand) after a trick that looks different from everything that has gone before.

- Make sure the last trick is easy pleasy lemon squeezy. You should already have removed any hard tricks from the routine, but dropping on that last catch is über-embarrassing. By “hard” I mean hard for YOU. They can be the most technically advanced tricks in the world ever to be performed on stage ever (the opposite of my show) but dropping with a one diabolo routine is unforgivable (saying that, I did drop the last time I performed this routine, but had a spare out of my prop case within two seconds).

That’s it for now! Maybe that’s a lot to think about, but I go through a similar process with every juggling routine I make now, and it serves me very well indeed.

There is, of course, a huge amount more I could say about routining, but I’ll save those for future posts.

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