When I first read descriptions of the acts of Enrico Rastelli and Alexander Kiss, I was quite sure that some of the tricks described were hyperbole. I believed that surely the writer had miscounted the number of props being juggled or combined tricks together in his memory. In one or two cases, this was exactly the case.
After seeing Enrico Rastelli perform for the first time, Bobby May was astonished at many of Rastelli’s tricks. One such trick was the candlestick trick. May believed he saw the Italian juggling legend hold a candlestick with a candle in it, flip up the candle, light the flipping candle with a lit match, and place the candlestick on a table, where the candle then landed back into the end of the candlestick. This would definitely rank as one of the greatest tricks ever. However, when May saw Rastelli’s act again, he saw that the candle was caught and then the candlestick was placed back on the table. That’s a great trick, but nothing compared to what May thought he had seen. Similarly, 46 years following seeing Rastelli, May recalled Rastelli juggling six plates while bouncing a ball on his head, spinning a ring on his ankle, and jumping a rope turned by two assistants. In fact, Rastelli performed this trick without the ball bounced on his head. May had seen Enrico juggle six plates with a head bounce in addition to the jump rope trick and had combined them together in his memory. You can watch these and many of Rastelli’s other incredible tricks in the following video.
On the other hand, I was quite sure that some of the tricks attributed to Alexander Kiss, the father of Russian juggling, were exaggerations. When I read that Kiss could juggle seven rings while bouncing a club on his head, I was sure that he either balanced a club or bounced a ball, rather than bounced a club. It wasn’t until I finally saw the trick on video that I realized the initial description was indeed correct (the club is spring-loaded which enables it to be bounced). The same was true for Kiss’ nearly unbelievable six ring routine. If you haven’t seen Alexander Kiss’ act, do yourself a favor and watch the following video. You can see both of these tricks / routines performed with perfection.
This proved to me that many tricks I believed were impossible were not only possible, but could be mastered to the point of being performed on a daily basis. The following is a compilation of just a few of the greatest tricks ever achieved. Most were performed, while a few were done only in practice.
One of the tricks never performed was also done by Alexander 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.
One of my favorite tricks is the Rastelli jump rope trick I mentioned earlier. Four other jugglers have done amazing variations on that trick. All four have replaced the six plates with the slightly easier six rings, but have made other changes to increase the difficultly. Italo Medini performed the six rings with one on his ankle with the jump rope, but instead of having the rope go over the top of the entire pattern, the rope went under the top four rings following each pair of throws. You can view this variation at: http://www.circopedia.org/Italo_Medini_Video_1973
Another variation on this already incredible trick was done by both Alberto Sforzi and Angelo Picinelli. In this version, the rope is again jumped while six rings are juggled and another is spun on the ankle. The addition of a ball balanced on a head pedestal makes this version quite impressive. You can see a picture of Picinelli doing the trick below and video of it performed by Alberto Sforzi below that.
Watch Alberto Sforzi performing the jump rope trick at the 4:03 mark.
Variations of Rastelli’s trick were not only done by his fellow Italians. Probably the most impressive version of this trick was performed by Russian juggler Boris Jewgrafow. He performed the trick that Bobby May believed he had seen Rastelli do, except with rings. Jewgrafow juggled six rings while bouncing a ball on his head, spinning a ring on his ankle, and jumping rope all at the same time.
Another example of a juggler taking an already incredible trick and making it more difficult was accomplished by Ernest Montego. He took the Brunn Finish, made famous by his half-brother Francis Brunn, and performed it flawlessly on a five foot unicycle. Click here to see this amazing trick.
One trick that I finally saw after two decades of reading about it was Evgeni Biljauer’s five club, three up front roll. He performed this in his act and did the front roll under all five clubs in practice. While Wes Peden and Vova Galchenko have accomplished the three up version in practice, only Biljauer mastered and performed the feat. You can see him rehearsing it below.
Some of the most impressive tricks I’ve ever heard of were done by French juggler Andre Reverhos. He was famous for standing on his head on a large ball while juggling three clubs and spinning a ring on each foot, but he could do even more impressive tricks in practice. He was well-known for showing friends his ability to juggle five clubs or six batons while doing the upside down head stand balance on the ball!
The art of hoop rolling / juggling features many amazing tricks, but one trick stands out. It was performed by the two greatest hoop jugglers of all time, Howard Nichols and Bob Bramson. The trick involved balancing a large hoop on the juggler’s head and juggling four slightly smaller hoops in a half shower, throwing the lower tosses through the middle of the balanced hoop. You can see Howard Nichols doing the trick while turning in a circle at the 0:17 mark of the video found here: http://juggling.tv/5445
You can see Bob Bramson performing the trick with two hoops spun on one leg at the 3:26 mark of the video found here: http://juggling.tv/162
In the 1930s, Freddy Zay from Germany performed many amazing feats. The most impressive was the following trick. He would balance a five foot tall pole on his head that had a small platform on the top, where a lamp was placed. He would juggle six large rings while spinning another on his ankle. This was all done while idling on a 12 foot tall unicycle! Zay is said to have juggled 10 rings on the super tall unicycle. If true, this would make him the earliest 10 ring juggler, well before Francis Brunn, who is usually stated as the first to juggle ten.
There are numerous other tricks that almost defy the imagination. I’ll discuss many more of these in part 2 of this article.