Alexander Kiss – A Soviet Juggling Icon

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One of the most important names in the history of juggling is Alexander Kiss. He was the first juggler from the USSR to gain international fame and his influence on the juggling world continues today. Kiss was born on October 2nd, 1921 into a family of established circus performers. He began his performing career in the circus at the age of four and learned many skills. At the age of twelve, Alexander joined the Bor-Kiss Juggling Troupe, which was founded by Alexander’s father, Nikolai, and Boris Borisow. The troupe, which had up to eight members, performed in a picnic setting and passed bottles, plates, apples, hats, and flaming torches, often while riding on a horse-drawn carriage with one juggler standing on the horse and the other on the carriage.

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Alexander and Violetta – The Amazing Brother and Sister Duo

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Alexander’s sister, Violetta, was four years his junior and started working with her brother at a young age. While Alexander specialized in toss juggling, Violetta became an accomplished antipodist (foot juggler). The siblings learned to combine these skills with various balance tricks to create a unique world class act, which debuted in 1939, when Alexander was 18 and Violetta was 14. You can see photos of some of these tricks below. Other tricks included juggling while doing a head to head balance. The original act was set in a child’s playroom with the siblings portraying children quarreling over toys.

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Alexander Kiss  4 sticks & 1 hand head-stand

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Alexander and Violetta became stars of the Soviet circus. Their duo act was recorded as part of S. Gurov & Y. Ozerov’s film Ring Of The Braves in 1954. You can see this wonderful record of their act below.

Alexander and Violetta continued to perform together until 1966, when Violetta began teaching at the Moscow Circus School. Her most famous pupil would be Sergei Ignatov. Violetta passed away in 1994. Alexander continued performing as a solo artist when Violetta left to teach.

Alexander Kiss – Juggling Superstar

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During his time performing with his sister and as a solo artist, Alexander Kiss developed numerous amazing and never before seen tricks that made him easily one of the best jugglers of all time. Many of his routines, such as bouncing a springy club on his forehead while juggling seven rings, his breakdown balance / ball bounce while juggling 6 rings, and his long juggle of eight rings while balancing a pole on his forehead while balancing on a rola bola, have never been repeated by any other juggler. He is perhaps best known today as the inventor of five club back crosses. It is said that during his early years performing the trick, he was asked by other jugglers what the secret to juggling five clubs behind his back was. He refused to share the method. Finally, he relented and told them that the secret was to practice like hell!

Alexander Kiss 5 clubs on steps

In addition to the tricks listed above, Kiss performed a routine with four clubs and a ball, 6 clubs, five torches with a flaming balance, and 6 rings with several pirouettes. It is said that during his career Kiss invented at least 40 never before seen tricks or routines. Below are more pictures of this juggling legend.

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Alexander Kiss and wife

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Alexander Kiss 7 rings club balance

Alexander Kiss 6 rings, head balance

Alexander Kiss 6 hoops & head bounce

As you might have noticed from the photos above, Alexander Kiss continually tinkered with the design of his props. Throughout his career, he experimented with different designs for his clubs, rings, bounce club, ball pedestals, and other props. Kiss was a skilled engineer and created a prop stand that would shoot clubs out to him and a rola bola base that would rise into the air. Only a few of his props still exist. Paul Bachman owns one of his versions of the bounce club and a plastic ring. David Cain owns a remarkable ring made out of aircraft aluminum, which can be seen below.

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Only three videos of Alexander Kiss are available to the general public. The first was the one embedded above showing him performing with his sister. Another is the one below, showing him in 1970, at the peak of his ability and performing the act that he became most famous for.

 
Alexander Kiss maintained very high standards for his performances. He almost never dropped in front of audiences. One drop was considered a failure while more than one caused him to stay behind and practice for hours after a performance. He always made sure to run tricks for at least two rotations. This means for the 8 ring juggle with the balance, he always performed at least 16 catches. In warm ups, he would do 100 catches of the 8 rings with the balance. He also didn’t tone down the technical demands of his act as he aged, continuing to perform the same incredible feats that he performed in his younger days.
 
In 1969, Alexander Kiss won the prestigious Rastelli Trophy in Bergamo, Italy, crowning him as the best juggler in the world. Below are two photos of Kiss receiving the Rastelli Trophy and standing beside Enrico Rastelli’s widow, Henrietta.
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Alexander Kiss  & Mrs. Rastelli in Bergamo-Rastelli Trophy
Here’s an entertaining anecdote about Kiss. An older friend of Kiss told him that Rastelli had been able to bounce two balls on his head while juggling four sticks. Alexander went to work learning this trick and after countless hours of practice could do it well enough to show the friend who had initially mentioned it.  The friend was amazed that Kiss had learned it.  Kiss was amazed in turn when the friend told him that he had been joking about Rastelli doing it. I’ve confirmed the accuracy of this story with Kiss’ son. Unfortunately, no video of the trick is known to exist. However, below is a brief video of Alexander Kiss performing with a single ball and four sticks.
 
 
In addition to the Rastelli Trophy, Kiss was given many awards by the Soviet government and won various circus competitions. Alexander Kiss passed away on November 18th, 1990, leaving behind sons Nikolai Kiss and Alexander Kiss. Nikolai’s daughter is Victoria Kiss and Alexander’s son is current juggler Maxim Kiss. Many of today’s jugglers are not aware of the profound talent and contributions of Alexander Kiss. I hope that this article has helped to inform the juggling world a bit more about this wonderful juggling icon.

David Cain is a professional juggler, juggling historian, and the owner of the world's only juggling museum, the Museum of Juggling History. He is a Guinness world record holder and 15 time IJA gold medalist. In addition to his juggling pursuits, David is a successful composer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and singer as well as the author of sixteen books. He and his children live in Middletown, OH (USA).

Comments 0

  1. So excited to see and read an article about Alexander Kiss! I knew of him as a legend, and had heard him even spoken of as the father of Russian technique. I was under the impression though that he had done a lot of teaching. Is that not the case? Was it more-so his sister? Do any of their teachings live on somewhere?

    1. It was his sister that was the teacher. I’m not aware of her teaching being written down in textbook form. Other than Ignatov, she mainly trained antipodists.

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