Harry Levine steps onto a New York City stage before 400 rapt onlookers. Wearing a kilt, Prince Charlie jacket, white shirt, and bowtie, he holds a small recorder to his mouth and plays the top half with his left hand, using his right to juggle three balls with another juggler — who is simultaneously singing and strumming a guitar himself. Meanwhile, another juggler is playing the bottom half of Levine's recorder. Much to Levine's relief, the crowd roars. "I didn't think I'd be able to do it," admits the new member of the renowned Flying Karamazov Brothers (FKB), a juggling company famous for tossing about frying pans and flaming torches like so many nerf balls.
Levine has come a long way from the Washington State orchard where he caught the juggling bug some 20 years ago, "messing around with apples" while working as a picker. Juggling became both a hobby and his "therapy." When he juggles, he says, "All other things melt away — I'm just sort of grooving." Levine turned pro in 1995, joining the Mud Bay Jugglers, an ensemble group based in Olympia, Washington. As he honed his juggling skills, Levine set his sights on performing with the Flying Karamazov Brothers. "They're silly, they're funny, they're imaginative," he says. Four years ago he auditioned for the Brothers and finished as first runner-up. "It was a real shot in the arm," says Levine. "Just to be considered a viable candidate was amazing."
Last year the FKB finally called and welcomed him to the family. Levine was given the stage name "Kuzma" (every name in the troupe comes from a character in Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov) and a list of routines to learn. A member of a back-up team of Brothers, he hasn't yet worked a top-tier international gig, but he frequently jets to cities around the country, recorder and kilt in tow. (The kilt is part of the FKB costume. "I'm not going to say it looks good on me," he concedes.) It's a crazy life being on call, and mastering the elaborate routines demands serious discipline: That trick with the recorder (called "4 by 4") took about 50 hours of focused practice. "It just blew my mind," he says. But despite the challenges, Levine is thrilled to be working with his heroes. "If you'd told me 20 years ago that I'd be juggling with the best, I'd have said, 'No way!' But here I am, and that's cool!"
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