On Sunday afternoon, the Flying Karamazov Brothers juggled - among other things - an octopus, green Jell-O and a 5-pound sack of flour. They had Jim Rouse Theatre in Columbia packed to its 700-patron capacity.
But Monday morning, it was amateur hour.
At the Rouse minitheater, the world-famous juggling group taught 30 fans - amateurs and connoisseurs, kids and not-so-youngsters - how to maneuver simpler objects in the air.
"We're like their groupies, except that we don't travel to see them," said Richard Taffet, 59, of Rockville, who has seen the Flying Karamazov Brothers perform four times in the past five years and attended the events Sunday and Monday with his two daughters.
Before the class, Taffet had never tried to juggle. On the other hand, 10-year-old David Suzuki, who learned to juggle this year in his hometown of Shorewood, Wis., was there to add tricks to his repertoire.
"Rod was teaching me how to spin," David said of Rod Kimball, one of the Karamazov Brothers. David practiced juggling three balls and, without notice, tossing one higher and doing a 360-degree turn before catching it.
The Flying Karamazov Brothers, in town as part of Columbia Festival of the Arts, is a four-member troupe of friends who are not related. Two of the original four - Howard Patterson and Paul Magid - remain part of the act that began in the early 1970s.
For David Suzuki, the best part of Sunday's show was "The Gamble," when Magid attempted to juggle three items provided by the audience. If he didn't succeed in three tries, he would get pie in the face. If he did, he would get an ovation.
After five attempts at tossing a dead octopus, a football-sized block of green Jell-O and a 5-pound bag of flour he accidentally ripped open, Magid got both the pie and the audience's applause.
Taffet, the longtime Karamazov Brothers fan, was responsible for providing the octopus.
"I wanted to get something that affected all the senses," said Taffet, after explaining that the octopus had a distinct odor. "[Magid] did it well once he got it in the air. You could see the tentacles and everything."
Nadine Klatt, 46, of Columbia, also a longtime fan, saw the Karamazov Brothers 20 years ago in Pittsburgh and brought her 12-year-old daughter, Erika, and 16-year-old son, Evan, to both events.
"But really, my kids are just an excuse so I could come down and try to learn to juggle," she conceded. "This way, when I have a midlife crisis, I can just run off and join the circus when I get this down."
Two of the Karamazov Brothers and an apprentice ran Monday's workshop and organized their students by levels of object-twirling proficiency. Taffet was among the beginners.
There's a catch!
Toss one ball up and down. Left to right. Right to left, the instructors told the novices. With the enthusiasm of a youngster, Taffet kept trying to throw his pink tennis ball to the right height with the correct arc. Every time he threw the ball, he stretched his legs as if he were going to jump up after it. When the ball fell, he flexed his legs, as if he were going down with it.
About 45 minutes into the class, Taffet moved up to tossing two balls but was having a difficult time.
"It's more than twice as hard with two balls," Taffet said.
"OK, do you like music?" interjected Andy Sapora, an apprentice with the Karamazov Brothers, after noticing Taffet's problem. "I have a rhythm solution for you. It's throw, throw, catch. Get it? Throw, throw, catch."
So Taffet tried tossing the balls to the rhythm: "Throw ... throw ... catch. Throw ... throw ... catch."
After a few failed attempts, Taffet figured he had received bad instructions.
"Wait, he's wrong," Taffet said. "Mathematically, this can't be right. It's 'Throw, throw, catch, catch.' There are two catches."
Frustrated, he moved down to one ball at a time by the end of the hourlong class.
"I should always know my limits," he said, joking.
As for David Suzuki, he picked up a few tricks to show his grandmother, whom he is visiting in Columbia this summer. At the end of the class, he was thrilled to demonstrate a new trick. With the agility of a circus clown, he juggled three balls and intermittently bounced one of them off his T-shirt.
Short of a breath and with a huge grin on his face, he was proud of what he learned. "I really like it," he said.
Rod's juggling class
According to Rod Kimball, one of the Flying Karamazov Brothers, here are three learning steps and three common mistakes:
Learn to throw just one ball back and forth from one hand to another. The goal is to throw the ball to forehead height about 20 times without having to reach out for it.
Using two balls - one in each hand - throw one up, and when it starts to come down throw the other. The goal is to throw and catch the balls about 20 times while keeping the same position, not having to chase them down.
Hold three balls - two in your dominant hand (the one you write with) and one in the other. Throw one ball from the dominant hand, and when it starts to fall, throw the ball from the other hand. Once that one starts to fall, throw the second ball from the dominant hand.
Talking. "People usually start talking because it's embarrassing when you can't juggle the balls," said Kimball. It's better to concentrate on just juggling.
Incorrect posture. It seems easier to stand with one foot in front of the other, but Kimball recommends standing with both feet parallel to each other.
Using too much upper arm muscle. This makes you reach, Kimball said. Try to use just your forearms and wrists.