Michael Moschen is just a juggler. But that's like saying Michael Jordan is just a basketball player or Michael Jackson is just an entertainer.
One thing all of these Michaels have in common, aside from the same first name, is the ability to set new standards of what can be accomplished in their respective mediums.
"At the basest level of juggling it's 'I can do this and you can't,' " said Moschen in a telephone interview from his New York home. "On a more serious level, though, it's chaos and control. That's where I reside. When you get to the top of your game, you live to go to the edge of what you can do."
Moschen, who was once dubbed "the Nijinsky of Juggling," will perform Feb. 7 at the The Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center as part of the Cultural Olympiad.
Moschen's juggling often receives high praise from fans and media around the world, yet at the same time, these people, and even Moschen himself, have a hard time putting into words what it is exactly that Moschen does.
"What I do is create objects and the movement of objects," Moschen said. "It's actually more fine-arts based than anything else."
Some of Moschen's signature pieces include juggling and rolling crystal balls all over his body, and another where he is inside a giant triangle, keeping numerous balls in constant motion.
Moschen also works with flaming torches, metal rods and other things, all the time incorporating dance, miming and interaction with the audience.
The eclectic nature of his performances comes from his wide range of interests.
"You can put all sorts of labels on what I do. I'm influenced by mathematics, science, dance and so many things," Moschen said. "No matter what I do, though, I'm an athlete first. I'm always training, you can't just fall back on pure skill."
Moschen has been featured in the United States in shows like the Big Apple Circus and the Kennedy Center Honors as well as abroad in theater and dance festivals in Hong Kong, Perth, Edinburgh and Barcelona. He also has been featured in the book "The Virtuoso: face to face with 40 extraordinary talents" and in the A&E documentary "The Mystery of Genius."
On television, he has appeared on many shows both home and abroad including "The Tonight Show" and "The David Letterman Show." His expertise with crystal balls even got him the job of David Bowie's hands in the movie "Labyrinth."
Moschen started early in life wanting only in life to be a golfer. That later changed thanks to the influence of a boy who lived next door, Penn Jillette, who later became the chatty half of the famous magic duo Penn and Teller.
Moschen and Jillette got a book and learned together how to juggle when they were young, later forming their own performing duo for two years. They later realized that they were moving in different directions of performance and broke up the act, but the friendship remains, and Moschen still sometimes performs with Penn and Teller.
Moschen said he knows which acts are his most popular pieces because he sees other jugglers stealing the ideas. Once while he was choreographing a piece for the Cirque du Soleil, a man came and tried out for the show by trying to pass off one of Moschen's signature pieces as his own.
Although imitation is the purest form of flattery, Moschen said he gets weary of people taking credit for things he spent so much time slaving over. Moschen said that part of the reason he moved just outside of New York City to a more rural setting was to get away from people trying to sneak peaks at whatever he was working on next.
"That's one of the nice things about sports, there are rules and everyone has to play by them," Moschen said. "With art, though, it's much harder to enforce the rules."
Moschen said he has replaced the fun of the street work he used to do early on with performing at inner-city schools in New York.
"I try to get them excited about math and science. I show them how a circle wants to move and things like that. I look at it as part of my job as a member of the community."
Moschen said that with the heady accolades, it's the volunteer work that keeps him grounded.
"It's funny, because this past year I did some of the biggest shows of my life and then 12 hours later I was in a school performing for kids.
"I opened the second act of the Kennedy Center Honors and was told that I got President Clinton's jaw to drop. The next day I was back at a school and a little girl asked me if I was famous. I told her 'If you love what I do, then I'm famous to you, and that's what's important.' "
Moschen performs Feb. 7 at 8 p.m. at The Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center located at 138 W. Broadway. Tickets for the performance can be purchased at www.saltlake2002.com or by calling 1-888-842-5387.