Adam Dipert | Dreaming of Space Juggling  |  Space Juggling: Behind the Scenes I Through Aug. 8

A porthole ringed with ghostly LEDs looks out into the darkness of deep space. Just beyond it lies the future—or more specifically, a future form of entertainment, and perhaps even a future art form.

In the void, Adam Dipert slowly spins, a trim, bald young man in a high-tech black flight suit with blue piping. In front of him, four white balls float, suspended in mid-space.

As the camera spins with Dipert, the stars go whizzing by behind him, and the spheres careen in orbits that seem at first eccentric before an eerie symmetry manifests. All the while, the revolving man deftly keeps the globes in motion and in check through a series of gentle corrections with his hands.

Then the camera stops. When it does, we notice something that should not be.

In this perspective, the same balls in the same patterns now are moving in triangular and polygonal patterns—in straight lines—across the visual field, as we’d expect in zero gravity.

Then the camera spins again, and the same orbs in the same mobile matrix start curving, arcing, and spiraling once more.

Welcome to the world of space juggling. If it’s any comfort, Dipert, its inventor and sole proprietor who lives in Durham, was at first as baffled as you when his research began to suggest that, after Erwin Schrödinger killed his hypothetical, metaphysical cat, he joined the circus, and began persuading moving balls to occupy two contradictory states at the same time.

“I didn’t expect to find the curves,” Dipert says. “That wasn’t part of my plan; it was part of the discovery.”

You can see the contradiction for yourself. After working on the project in secret over the last two years, Dipert’s been revealing the first full-length videos documenting his new creation over the last two weeks.

Their first showing took first place at the 2021 International Jugglers’ Association Festival on July 15, where Dipert also took home first prize in the juggling championship competition. Last weekend he held a launch party for the general public in online events on his website. The videos will be available for viewing there through Aug. 8.

Dipert’s been a high-profile fixture in the region’s cirque scene for most of the last decade, thrilling audiences in productions with Imagine Circus and Cirque de Vol.

It’s not as widely known, though, that the entertainer also completed his PhD in physics during that time, and is now in a postdoctoral program at Arizona State University.

In recent years, Dipert’s worked to combine his two passions in increasingly unconventional ways.

He flirted with thoughts of space art for years, but after viewing the aircraft for a friend’s unlikely 40th birthday present—a parabolic flight simulating weightlessness—Dipert saw he didn’t need more technology to pursue his dreams.

“The only thing between us and realizing it was doing it,” he says.

His first parabolic flights divulged scientifically rigorous insights into movement research in microgravity, and research published in scholarly journals including the Proceedings of the International Astronautical Congress and Contact Quarterly.

Along the way, Dipert began studying embodied cognition, which looks at how our brain’s body awareness and the effects of our senses on physical action influences not only the things we think but the types of things we can think.

That would come in handy as he started musing on the possibilities of what he calls “space juggling”—juggling in a simulation of zero gravity.

When he does it, Dipert’s body hangs horizontally, suspended from a harness used for theatrical flying and trapeze acts, inches above a clear plastic membrane on which the balls he juggles rest.

As he manipulates the spheres, a camera placed below, that can spin in sync with Dipert’s body, captures the performance.

The pandemic gave him the gift of hyperfocus. “I had the next idea, and the next idea, and as I dug into the mathematics, that started influencing the way I was rehearsing, and sometimes in rehearsing I’d find something I wanted to uncover in the math,” he says.

Dipert estimates that he’s put “at least 1,300 hours” into the new form since he started.

At the start of the pandemic, he posted a challenge to the world on social media. Dipert observed that Isaac Newton invented calculus while he was forced to stay at home because of the plague in 1666.

“So, what’s your Calculus going to be?” he asked.

Looking back now, Dipert laughs. “I’ve got my answer.”

He knows that centrifugal force and something called the Coriolis effect explains part of the apparent contradiction in spheres that appear to curve and travel in straight lines simultaneously.

He also finds a deeper metaphor in our deeply schismatic perceptions of the phenomenon.

“We’re having such a hard time now communicating perspectives to each other,” he says. “It feels really relevant to demonstrate an example of how seeing a different perspective can fundamentally change something as simple as the trajectory of a ball.”

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