The way Morten Hansen sees it, juggling has been around as long as human beings have. Unlike music, however, it is sort of the side show of cultural expression.

“It’s never been at the center; it’s a peripheral pulse instead of a heartbeat,” he said.

Juggling has been at the center of Hansen’s creative life since he was a teen. For many years, he practiced the art from Chicago, Los Angeles, Tucson, Orlando, Minneapolis and New York City, to London, England and Edinburgh, Scotland. He has a couple of young children now, however, and has limited his performances to New England the last eight or nine years. He rarely performs in the Midcoast, but that will change this month. Hansen, who has just moved his family into the house he has spent a few years building in Troy, will bring his solo “Falling Up Words” show to Waldoboro’s Waldo Theatre Saturday, June 12; and the Unity College Centre for the Performing Arts Saturday, June 26. Both shows start at 7 p.m.

Hansen said he got into juggling as a teenager because he was interested in mathematics. He went to college with the intent of majoring in astrophysics, “but school was getting in the way of juggling.” He switched his major to performing arts with a focus on modern dance, choreography and directing. His senior thesis production was titled “Parabola: a Study of Objects in Motion.” But perhaps his greatest education came from August Lauppe, who lived near where Hansen grew up, in the Bath area.

“I was really lucky,” Hansen said. “After I’d been juggling on my own about a year, I met a retired German circus performer. He was so old he didn’t juggle anymore, but he would come see me and coach and steer me on the technical side.”

In his younger days, Lauppe had toured with Laurel and Hardy, serving as the comedy duo’s opening act, and he taught tricks to the original Harlem Globetrotters. The kind of expertise he extended to Hansen is something rarely available to American jugglers.

“In other places in the world, there is a formal tradition of teaching the circus arts,” said Hansen. “I got access to some of that through Gus.”

Hansen’s modern dance studies gave his juggling an alternate source of inspiration and the style he developed was very different than that of his mentor.

“I think he couldn’t understand why I wasn’t dressing in red, white and blue and performing to ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,'” said Hansen.

The soundtrack Hansen performs to features, for the most part, pieces specifically composed for his work. The composers include Peter Mayer, Gideon Freudmann, Paul Newton and Ray Lamontagne.

“I’m fortunate that most of the music in the show was written by friends of mine,” Hansen said. “One of Ray’s he later put out as a song, but first it was an instrumental.”

Hansen said he sees his performances as something akin to those of a singer/songwriter. He will do a choreographed piece somewhat as one might do a song, then check in with the audience and perhaps share a story about the piece’s origins or some other aspect of his juggling experience before moving on to the next “song.” Which is not to say there isn’t improvisation in “Falling Up Words.”

“Accidents happen! Sometimes I end up going down a different road than I intended,” he said.

Hansen’s choreographed set piece approach may not be circus tradition, but he does use traditional juggling props such as balls, clubs, rings and plates. He does not, as is popular in some circles, juggle “dangerous” props like knives or flaming sticks or chainsaws. He said he understands that with the right set of skills, those acts are not as dangerous as they appear. But he also understands that they put the audience into a fearful place “and that’s not the conversation I want to have as a performer.”

Hansen’s favorite juggling prop is the most basic — the ball.

“Balls are my very favorite thing to perform and experiment with,” he said. “Such a plain idea, but there can be thousands of variations.”

Over the course of his career, Hansen has juggled in a variety of formats; he also serves as technical director for Buckfield’s Oddfellow Theater. His earlier solo show was titled “Parabola,” reflecting that intersection of mathematics and juggling that started him on his path. In the late 1990s, he worked with juggling partner Fritz Grobe in an act called blink, which played at the Maine Center for the Arts, Merrill Auditorium, the American Folk Festival and Dance Portland, as well as venues much farther afield.

Hansen has received four gold medals from the International Jugglers Association. In 2003, he set a world record by juggling 15 balls with juggler Ben Jennings. But the shows he is doing this month carry a different level of reward.

“I’m not interested in inventing a high art performance,” he said. “That does exist in juggling, and I’ve created some in the past … this show is very relaxing.”

He added there is just not that much out there as far as family entertainment goes that isn’t connected to the Disney empire. His show is one of those rare things that truly has appeal for every family member.

“It has a strong visual component so even really small kids can be engaged, but it’s not taken down to a children’s level … the way I try to perform can play on numerous levels at the same time,” Hansen said.

“Falling Up Words,” as it will be performed in Waldoboro and Unity, will run about an hour and 10 minutes, without intermission. At the Unity show, Hansen will be joined on stage by a local student he has been working with. In his recent travels around New England, he said, he has been delighted to discover the numerous old vaudeville houses that have survived to the 21st century, as well as places like the used-to-be-a-barn Unity College Centre.

“There are these small communities that have stayed motivated to create a venue for live performances,” he said. “I’m really excited to bring the show to both these places.”

Tickets for the 7 p.m. Saturday, June 12 performance at the Waldo Theatre on Main Street/Route 220 in Waldoboro are $5. For more information, call the Waldo at 832-6060 or visit

Tickets for the 7 p.m. Saturday, June 26 performance at the Unity College Centre for the Performing Arts at 42 Depot St. are $10; $5 for children. For more information, call 948-7469 or visit

VillageSoup Art/Entertainment Editor Dagney Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail to