|A Conversation With Michael
-By RINKER BUCK
Anyone who thinks successful artists lead charmed, leisurely lives ought to be sentenced to spend a day with Michael Moschen. The man who has been called "the juggler of the century" and "the world's greatest performance artist" rkSes every morning at 6, then limbers up over a cup of coffee in the studio-barn of his fashionably ramshackle compound in Cornwall. The next three hours are devoted to painstaking rehearsal of a new piece; this summer, Moschen is developing a complicated act involving the manipulation of cylinders fashioned from outdoor plumbing pipe.
By 9 am, he is at work at his desk, handling the myriad details of shipping props and booking road crews for a solo act that travels, in any single month, halfway around the world and back.
'Tm toast," Mochen says, "If I dare answer my calls before 2 O'clock."
After that, he breaks at 3:30 p.m. for yard work or doing the laundry. Over dinner, Moschen allows himself a single glass of wine. Then, at the ragged edge of fatigue-- "I do my best work under the stimulus of exhaustion" Mochen walks back across to his barn for a grueling 7:30 to 11 pm rehearsal of his regular act. Seventeen-hour days like this, plus a truly superhuman obsession with detail, have placed Moschen. 44, in the top rank of the world's performance artists. Moschen's two-hour show involves as many as 27 separate manipulations of juggling balls, spheres, flaming pros and hoops. In his most famous, trademark piece, Moschen bounces five balls inside an immense wooden triangle. His act incorporates the physics of illusion, mime, ballet, classic juggling and an architectural sense of prop-building and space, elements so diverse that the critics run out of words. The uniqueness of Moschen's work won him a MacArthur "genius'' grant in 1990, and his electric, universal appeal regularly sells out theaters from Taiwan to Milan.
Moschen's virtuosity will be on display this week when he opens a five-day run at the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in Becket, Mass., Wednesday.
A deal is in the works to bring his performances into Connecticut schools, and, along with Robin Williams and Rosie O' Donnell, Moschen will headline the annual fund-raiser at Paul Newman's Hole in the Wall camp in Ashford in September.
Moschen grew up in a housing project in the industrial town of Greenfield, Mass. His father, Angelo Moschen, worked days as a factory machinist and evenings and weekends as a stonemason, and it was his early experiences visiting the local pool halls and playing weekend golf with his father that formed Moschen's fascination with balls. After finishing high school, Moschen hitchhiked around America and Europe for several years, working as a carpenter and potter before taking up juggling full time.
His first act was a duo with his boyhood neighbor from Greenfield, Penn Jillette (now of the famous Penn & Teller performance team), perfected on the streets of New York and at the Great Adventure Amusement Park in New Jersey. In the late 1970s, after branching off on his own, Moschen's unprecedented juggling feats, combined with elements of music and dance, made him a cynosure of the "performance movement" that changed the face of art in New York.
Over the past two years, Moschen has continued to thrive, even as the circumstances of his life have turned painful. His father, to whom Moschen was devoted, died in 1997 from Parkinson's disease. Moschen's mother, Mary, has Alzheimer's disease and no longer recognizes her son. Last fall, Moschen's 12-year marriage to Danielle Mailer broke up. Moschen has spent the last eight months burying himself in new work, confronting the truth that his obsessive rehearsal regime and travel schedule contributed to the marital split. Typically, he's incapable of separating his private drama from his work.
"Personal problems don't have to interrupt your growth as a performer," he says. They can make you better. I reach the stage now with more emotional intensity, more to overcome. It's an edge that the audience feels without knowing why."
On a recent Friday afternoon, Moschen sat on the porch of his Cornwall house and talked about how he develops new pieces, his love of golf and the death of his father
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