Mikhail and Ksenia Pashchenko – Russian Juggling Pioneers

When important early Russian jugglers are mentioned, usually the names Massimiliano Truzzi and Alexander Kiss come to mind. However, there were Russian juggling stars before them, most importantly the husband and wife duo of Mikhail and Ksenia (Xenia) Pashchenko.

Not much is known about the Pashchenkos’ background or life. It is known that Mikhail Pashchenko was born in 1854 and was the protege of the Nikitin Brothers, the founders of the first genuine Russian circus. Mikhail was an acrobat and equestrian juggler at first before establishing himself as a juggling star on the ground around the start of the twentieth century. He was known for using everyday objects in his act, echoing the gentleman juggling trend in Western Europe at the time.

He initially dressed in peasant garb during his performances and performed with lamps, plates, candles, bowls, bottles, and other similar objects.

Mikhail Pashchenko

Ksenia and Mikhail Pashchenko

Mikhail Pashchenko

Mikhail sometimes dressed in an elaborate leotard, perhaps reflecting the success of Paul Cinquevalli and Severus Schaeffer.

Mikhail Pashchenko 1905

Mikhail Pashchenko

Mikhail Pashchenko

The following poster shows Mikhail dressed in peasant garb, elaborate leotard, and as a gentleman.

Mikhail Pashchenko

Eventually, Mikhail’s wife Ksenia, who was born in 1865, joined the act. She was also extremely skilled. The two dressed more in sportwear during their time working together.

Ksenia and Mikhail Pashchenko

Mikhail performed the following tricks or routines during his career.

3 cannon balls

3 umbrellas

4 axes

3 pistols while firing them

4 torches

6 ball bouncing (making him one of the earliest known ball bounce jugglers)

Spinning a plate on a revolving whip balanced on his head

Spinning 3 very large basins / tubs

Various plate spinning / plate juggling combination tricks

4 tennis rackets

5 tennis rackets with behind the back throws

Spinning a table with a pole

6 rings

Various combination tricks while balancing a huge samovar (large Russian kettle)

Various tricks with lamps

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Ksenia eventually learned many of her husband’s tricks, including juggling 4 tennis rackets and various balance tricks with the samovar. She famously juggled four lit candles while balancing a lamp and lit candles on a pole on her forehead. She did some club juggling as well. Together, Ksenia and her husband passed 7 large hoops. One of their most famous tricks involved passing 6 tennis rackets and bouncing them off the ground. Their act together was very playful, shown as a fun game between two very talented performers.

Ksenia and Mikhail Pashchenko

The couple also performed a more elegant gentleman and lady juggler act where Ksenia juggled an umbrella, fan, handbag, and hat and where Mikhail juggled a cane, top hat, gloves, and cigar.

The Paschchenkos primarily performed for the Nikitin Circus throughout their career. Mikhail passed away in 1933 and Ksenia died two years later in 1935.

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 twenty-four books. He and his children live in Middletown, OH (USA).

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