— Leo, thank you for having agreed to answer our questions. The fact of this formidable project returning to life is rather curious, though a lot has changed in the field in the last years. There are new flows, new balloon designs; many interesting forums in Europe and Asia, as well as in Russia, have appeared. A whole generation of young decorators and twisters, dissimilar to the ones at the start of this business, has grown up. Will the format and, mainly, your forum's concept change in regard to this? Or do you consider them so perfect that they are likely to sound contemporary to-date, too?
— The balloon industry constantly changes. New people, new colours, new balloons have always succeeded one another continuously! That is of all times and it is a good thing!
There is however one fundamental change that is increasingly affecting all forms of art, entertainment and daily life in general, and that is the incredible rise of the social media. The last couple of years the use of social media has exploded and that has far reaching repercussions on the balloon industry. Everything is shown and shared in an instant. Everything can be searched and (usually) found on the internet. Everyday thousands of videoclips are published on YouTube: many instructions both for decorators and for twisters can be viewed and re-viewed there... for free. And new social media are popping up constantly! The downside is that a creative balloon artist rarely gets credited for a technique he invented or a creation that he made. For example, imagine such an expert as Alberto Falcone having teaches a class somewhere in the world, and before he is back home, a thousand pictures are circulating the globe. That is a profound change!
But what the internet and the social media cannot replicate is the direct contact with your fellow balloon artists at a balloon event, the special ambiance that warms up a venue when a few dozen or a few hundred balloon people start jamming. If you were at the Qualatex Event in Slovenia, you know exactly what I mean. The festival, organized by Nico Fric family, has made such an impression as if we were invited to a table which a huge family had gathered at. And we were all privileged and happy to be there! That is something the internet and the social media cannot compete with and that's why events all over Europe will attract many people for some time to come. That is exactly why we don’t see any reason to change our format or concept! But, of course, at the same time we are always open to any good idea or suggestion.
— For the first time you have invited Russian decorators as speakers of your festival. What has attracted you in Alexander Solomatin and Vadim Shushkanov’s works?
— Yes, it is for the first time that we have invited Russian speakers to our festival! Perhaps, we could have done it earlier. We have been blown away and impressed for quite some time by their work as published in the magazines and on the internet but it was often the language barrier that made us hesitate. Now most of the russian balloon artists speak english well enough to teach and we are looking forward to welcome them at the Millennium Jam. Moreover, our main sponsor, the Qualatex company, has strongly recommended including Russian decorators among festival speakers. We look forward to meeting them. And we will be happy to welcome them at our forum. Personally, I like the Russian balloon artists because they match a mindblowing creativity with a very high technical skill level and they stay very modest about it! I mean, there is not a shred of what I call «a prima donna attitude». They are ready to do whatever it takes to finish the job, they have an amazing stamina and a special mentality of «If the technique doesn't exist, we will invent it!»
Nowadays we see mainly Russian balloon artists from the decorator side. But I hope that in future we will see them from the entertainers side, as well! With the rich Russian circus and clowning traditions, that must be something to look out for... Slava with a balloon act! I would travel far to see that!
— What contests will there be on Millennium Jam — 2015? What is the main topic of the forum?
— The main topic is «It’s a circus». And «it» refers to the balloon world and life in general! This year there will be the following competitions: balloon acts on-stage; one-balloon figures modeling; multi-balloons figures modeling; large sculptures for Secret Chambers of the Amazing Maze; the Unique Iron Latex Man Challenge.
You can look for details on the festival’s website www.millenniumjam.com
— Who is the director and the producer of the festival, if it is not a secret?
— There is no secret at all! The Millennium Jam is produced by the company IBS (International Balloon Services) founded in 1995 by myself and my long time associate Johan Wijns! So this year, we also celebrate 20 years of IBS! That was also one of the reasons why we resurrected our Balloon Festival! And I'm the Director of the Festival.
— Do you plan to make your forum annual?
— Nothing has been decided yet! We wanted to look whether or not we could bring our idea to life. Our forum still gains rather big community’s interest. But at the same time its organization requires colossal work and time. More than 200 delegates from 17 countries have already been registered there. And we have just a couple of months before the start of the festival.
— Which speakers have agreed to participate in this forum?
— All those having been invited have said yes. I even had to refuse to several speakers because because the program was full. 16 instructors from 12 countries, if I remember correctly, will take part in the forum. You can personally get acquainted with the speakers’ names and their works’ topics on the site of the event.
— Thank you, Leo. I think your story will be of interest for our decorators and twisters.