Venus, Goddess of the Diabolo


Best known for her skill with the diabolo, Amsterdam's Maike Aerden travels the world as a juggler, performer and diabologist. I met her family - Robin and their 1 year toddler Alida - at last year's Juggling Convention in Thailand. At Glastonbury Festival she agreed to an informal interview for Kaskade.

European juggers were introduced to Maike's style at the 1992 EJA public show in Spain where her elegantly choreographed routine with single and then double diabolos sent the crowd wild. She says learnt juggling and diabolo skills simultaneously and clearly has a natural gift with diabolo. But that's not all she does! She speaks fluent English in addition to her native Dutch and is an accomplished international performer, booked for a full range of shows of anything from 5 to 45 minutes.

Maike, who is now 26, began performing while she was a graduate student of Literature and Modern Dutch Poetry. She originally worked with partner Clinton Holzhauer, a juggler and magician. No one else in Maike's family is a performer and it was Clinton who first taught her "the tricks and the trade". However, an eye problem combined with high standards made him opt for a full time academic career in Chemistry and so the duo split.

Maike describes her early solo shows as "mostly technical with a neutral performance character". But, the act changed radically after working for a weekend with Tash Wesp (a.k.a. Mildred Hodidle, famous for ball spinning on her breasts). Together they invented a very sexy stage persona called "Venus".

Venus plays on an audience with remarkable Dutch boldness. In her "Diabology Act" she is confident of her skills, deals effectively with hecklers, embarrasses men and yet is fair and treats any child volunteer with great respect. Venus currently wears a Zebra mini dress with matching top hat and a range of other accessories - an outfit which effectively emphasises her owner's classically tall, blonde beauty.

Being around her young daughter, Alida is good inspiration. Alida doesn't use or need verbal communication and this may be is why silent language is becoming increasingly central to the show's comedy and presentation. Maike admires improvisation and the work of artists such as Avner the Eccentric. But, it is "the blend of juggling with comedy, poetry and music that make The Flying Karamazov Brothers my favourite juggling troupe". However, she also appreciates the precision and ability of jugglers such as Michiel Hesseling, Haggis Mcleod and Fritz Grobe - all of whom have the concentration and patience to strive for perfection. For diabolo, the Chinese are still supreme.

The best entertainers have "a relaxed presence and are involved in their entire surroundings. They have fun, are gentle with their audience and try to be 'original', no matter how difficult that may seem." It is important for a performer to take time out to learn about different forms of expression, work with others and watch a range of arts. When she has time, Maike's interests include dance (especially Argentinean Tango), music (improvisation on silver flute) and drawing. "Yoga, bicycling, juggling and walking the four flights of stairs up to my Amsterdam attic with a baby and groceries keep me fit".

When asked about ambition, Maike says she hopes to touch people and make them laugh and marvel. Reaching audiences is no problem as her show is flexible - suitable for almost every thinkable venue, stage, film and TV. She also wants to reach technical juggling feats such as 5 clubs and 7 balls and appear on the cover of Kaskade!

An interesting project is to write and perform an hour long theatre show incorporating circus skills with dance, music, comedy, mime and stories. To remember routines Maike says "noting down ideas helps to clear the mind and makes it easier to see what ideas fit together and if they make sense". Adaptability is also an important factor because it is so valuable "to keep having a show that fits in a suitcase, so I can travel swiftly and freely and be able to play at small as well as large venues".

Her most unusual audience was during the Tblisi Convention in Georgia. "I followed Rex Boyd away from the parade into a dense crowd of demonstrators in front of the Presidential building. There were only men, mostly armed and about to wage civil war. They formed a circle around us. My adrenaline was rushing when I made these angry men go 'ooh' and 'aah' with the diabolo. All the Tbilisan jugglers probably held the war back for that extra week...."

When asked for her tips on preventing nerves before a show, Maike says she often stands on one leg to find balance, breathes deeply and sometimes yawns to get grounded. While her first diabolo show was for children on a local tennis court (the adults were in the club house getting drunk, but the kids loved it), she is sure that her best performance is definitely still to come in the future. Rather than isolate the single most complex move in her current routines, "if anybody would like to know which astoundingly difficult tricks I perform, they've got to come see the show".

Maike sometimes works for agents, but generally manages herself as this has the advantage of freedom. Although based in Amsterdam, she prefers the country and admits to feeling restless after being anywhere for more than a couple of months. One solution is to seek performance work internationally and she is currently waiting to hear from contacts in Chili, Israel, Oklahoma and Australia. While Alida flies cheaply (Alida, incidentally means "little winged one"), the family intend to see the world, perhaps one day settling in New Zealand.

Surely it's difficult travelling with a small baby and making enough money to provide for your family? How much people get paid is probably the best kept secret in entertaining. Maike thinks life is like juggling - she always has almost too many things in the air. But, Robin who is a puppeteer, helps. They work as a team caring for Alida and have tried to develop an attitude of just getting on with things without complaining. "That way you can do a lot more than you think you can."

The choice to become a professional juggler was no accident as Maike believes in looking ahead. She pictured the paths she could take, for instance as a researcher, but chose entertainment. I wish her every success.


Anna Jillings 1993