The Rudenko Brothers were one of the top juggling duos of the middle of the twentieth century. Their career started in the 1930s and ended in the 1970s. Igor and George Rudenko started out as a silent act doing tempo / flash / technical juggling in the style of Rastelli, but transitioned over time to a talking comedy act with a few of the old school tricks still included. They have both now passed away, but their enormous talent and joyful personalities should not be forgotten.
Igor and George Rudenko were born in the early 1920s to Peter and Klaudia Rudenko, Russian flying trapeze artists. The family moved to Berlin, Germany in 1925. The boys’ father had worked in the Rastelli Family trapeze act when he was younger, so when the boys were young, their father took them to see and meet Enrico Rastelli. This inspired them to learn to juggle.
The family toured all over Europe and for five years in India. By this time, Igor and George had developed a juggling act to go along with their parents’ trapeze act. Their mother, a talented dancer, had also taught them acrobatics and dancing, which the boys excelled at. While in Calcutta, a top agent offered the two teenagers a series of high paying contracts in the best hotels in Asia. Igor and George’s parents quit the trapeze act and the Rudenko Brothers’ career was launched.
After their contracts in Asia ended, the brothers were booked to work in England. At this time their act was just juggling and acrobatics. When World War II broke out, Igor and George joined the British Army. The spent most of the war entertaining British and American troops, but performed for many different Allied forces, putting their mastery of many languages to good use. The brothers spoke English, German, Russian, and Hindu. They also were officers in the British Paratroopers Regiment. After the war, the Rudenkos were brought to the United States by well-known talent agent Sam Roberts. He changed their act, dropping unnecessary tricks and all of the acrobatics. He put them in tuxedos and helped them develop a talking comedy act that still included some of their earlier “skill” tricks, such as heading two balls at once and Igor’s “statue trick”, which can be seen below.
This change in their act allowed them to get top bookings in theaters and night clubs around the world and many television appearances. These include You Asked For It, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Dean Martin Show, and The Hollywood Palace. They performed at many Las Vegas hotels and casinos and toured with celebrities such as Jack Benny and Milton Berle.
Eventually the brothers moved to New York City and became United States citizens. From NYC, they moved to Southern California, where they lived for the rest of their lives. Even while still performing, they had other successful business ventures. They also each married.
Igor was the more technically gifted of the two brothers. He could juggle six sticks quite well and could also run six rings while bouncing a ball on his head. He always performed bouncing two balls on his head, but could do three in practice. He spent four years (1947-1951) trying to perfect the three ball head bounce trick, but the best he could do was ten bounces on a good day. More importantly, he could rarely catch them all at the end, making for a messy and unprofessional presentation. As a result, he never performed the trick.
George was an incredible club juggler, doing a wide variety of difficult tricks including slap backs. He also did almost all of the talking and comedy bits of their act.
The following is a description of the Rudenko Brothers act circa 1969.
- Both start by doing simultaneous routine with four sticks. The sticks are symmetrical (the same on both ends,) made of wood with metal bands around the ends, They are about sixteen inches long, The standard tricks are done, Also the four with half turns.
- Igor holds a ball in a mouth pedestal and juggles four rings while George gets three clubs.
- George does a three club routine including going into a juggle by throwing all three clubs from one hand around back. Routine also includes slap-back cascade-each and every club is slapped upward on the body so that it reverses its turn and is caught handle down. Another difficult trick is the continuous throws under the forearm of the catching hand with each club.
- George does fake ball roll on parasol.
- Two man three club routine featuring run arounds. Igor does three club routine including backcrosses, overhand overhead throws.
- Six club passing
- Igor bounces a ball on head and juggles four rings.
- Igor does shaker cups routine with three, four, and six small plastic shakers about six inches tall.
- Igor catches a volleyball bounced from George’s head on the underside of mouth stick by bending way over backwards, after several tries and a clever little “let’s get together dance.”
- George does a double spin trick- a ball spins atop a ball spinning on finger.
- Igor does a ball spinning routine with two volleyballs- including double arm curls and finishing with bouncing the two balls on the head.
- Finish- passing 6 fire torches. If torches couldn’t be performed, lighted clubs were used.
This first video was filmed by Bobby Jule and is made public for the first time here, courtesy of Bobby Jule.