Cinquevalli - the Greatest Juggler in the World

The Playgoer, October 1901

IN A TRULY charming residence, close by that important London thoroughfare known as Brixton Road, lives Paul Cinquevalli, the greatest juggler the world has ever seen. There is no deception about Cinquevalli, although his cleverness with some things is almost inconceivable. He is one of those jugglers whose tricks are astounding, and whose performances give genuine pleasure; who aim at real cleverness, not deception. He is 'the prince of jugglers'.

Balancing billiard balls on cue Tales of Cinquevalli have been told in many lands, in many languages, and in many degrees of veracity; and no wonder, for he is, in truth, a most versatile man, and a genius to boot. As juggler, gymnast, acrobat, and musician, he has travelled both hemispheres, and is master of nearly every European language. He is not sure if, before he left the cradle, he juggled with his feeding bottle, or balanced his nurse on his head, but he distinctly remembers, when only five years old, throwing eggs into the air and endeavouring to catch them in a plate. At this stage of his career, however, the eggs generally missed the plate, as well as his mother's pudding for which they were intended, and made a mess upon the floor. In later years when at school, he began to invent tricks, and could, after a little practice, throw his pencil and slate in the air, catch the pencil, write the letter A on the slate, and catch the slate before it reached the ground. At home, he juggled with everything in the house, excepting, perhaps, the firegrate, which remained unmanipulated only because it was a fixture.

Cinquevalli was born at Lissa, Poland, on 30 June, 1859 but when two years old he was sent to Berlin, and never returned to his birthplace. At thirteen, he triumphantly carried off five prizes for gymnastic performances, and afterwards, fascinated with the idea of becoming an acrobat, he ran away from home and school, joined a circus troupe, and eventually made his first public appearance at Odessa as a performer on the high wire.

'Hard work followed', says Paul, 'in all the leading cities in Russia and Germany, until, one lucky day, our company was commanded to appear before the Emperor William I in Berlin. Next day the entire press was enthusiastic over my performance, and as the result of my success, I once more became reconciled to my family, after two years complete separation and silence.

'After touring all over Europe, I returned to Russia - where the "smash" occurred. Shall I ever forget it? I was taking a long leap - with no friendly net beneath me - from one swinging trapeze to another. The attendant who should have wiped the moisture from the bars of the furthest trapeze had been absorbing 'moisture' in glasses, at bars more congenial, and had neglected his duty. As usual, I leapt with outstretched hands, but the trapeze slid through my fingers as if it had been greased. A gasp of horror floated up from the thousands below. In the space of five seconds I thought of father and mother, the playground, the school, and pictured my own funeral. It was several days before I recovered consciousness - smashed, it seemed to me, to pieces; and for eight weary months I lay half dead in hospital.

'That was the end of my trapeze days, and while on the road to convalescence, I began afresh the tricks of my childhood; hour after hour, and day after day, I spent in balancing and juggling bottles, balls, plates, anything and everything that I could lay my hands on. It was uphill work, but I soon became perfect.

'My first appearance, after recovery, was before an audience of fourteen thousand people, assembled in the very same building in which I had fallen twelve months before. Their enthusiasm, as I stepped on to the stage, astounded me. I stood watching the white sea of upturned faces, when suddenly it turned black. The band had struck up a Russian hymn, and the whole concourse were on their knees, offering up thanks for my recovery; it was no use - I had to cry, and give up all thoughts of performing for that day.'

Another tour followed, and in 1885 Cinquevalli made his first appearance in England, at Covent Garden Theatre - at that time open as a Circus - where he was personally congratulated by His (then) Royal Highness the Prince of Wales.

'Since that year', says Paul, 'things have gone exceedingly well with me, and London has certainly seen the most of me.

No. 7 'Here is a feat I first performed before his Royal Highness at Marlborough house. I take a wooden bar eighteen inches long and one inch in diameter, and suspend it by means of two loops of ordinary newspaper from the edges of two razors. My assistant holds the razors and I break the stick with a blow without injuring the paper in the least degree (No. 7).

'I have had dozens of narrow squeaks. A friend at Copenhagen bet me a champagne supper that I would not do a trapeze performance from a balloon. I took him. The wind was blowing out to sea, but we started. Dressed as a sailor, I clung to the bar - a few yards from the basket - did a few turns in the air, then scrambled up and sat on the bar; as we ascended to a great height I clambered into the car. Then we drifted out and into the sea. We floated about for an hour until we were rescued. I got a bad cold in addition to the champagne supper.

'On another occasion, when I was doing a wire-walking performance in Odessa, the roof fell in, and I was swept into the area below. I fell into a lady spectator's lap. The poor woman was killed, and I spent some weeks in hospital.'

No. 2 Paul considers his most difficult feat is to balance two billiard balls, one on top of the other, on the butt end of a cue, and balance the lot on another ball in a wineglass, the latter held in his mouth; then, with the faintest movement of the neck, he displaces the top ball, catches it, uses it to knock down the second ball, catches a ball in either hand, and leaves the cue in perfect balance. It took him eight years to perfect this trick (No. 2), and at first, after daily practice for eighteen months he was unable to maintain the top balls in position for more than a few seconds at a time. In Chicago he could not even do this, and discovered that heavy machinery working in the basement of the house in which he practiced was the reason.

Ordinary ivory billiard balls are used, although the incredulous constantly assert that the balls are flattened, or that wax is used to make then stand, but Paul replies that it is only because the balls are perfectly true that the trick can be accomplished.

No. 3 Another trick (No. 3), costing many years of practice, is the game of billiards, which the incomparable one - guided only by the sense of touch - actually plays on his back, the pockets being fixed to various parts of his body.

No. 9 A dangerous trick (No. 9) is with a cannon ball weighing 48lbs. After it has crashed through a kitchen table to prove its genuineness, he throws this solid weight some thirty feet or so in the air, arresting its fall by catching it (with as much ease and calm as if he was nodding to a friend) on the nape of his neck; after which it rolls lovingly down his arm, and back again over his chest, face, head, and body generally, as lightly as a child's play ball. Once the ball knocked him senseless, and to this day his flesh creeps every time the iron falls, with a thud, on his perspiring neck. No. 5 Sometimes he will vary the performance, by breaking the fall of the cannon ball on an ordinary plate (No. 5), but - wonder of wonders - without breaking the plate. And, again, he will juggle with the cannon ball, bottle, and a tiny paper ball - truly an astounding combination.

No. 1 None can forget Cinquevalli's marvellous juggling (No. 1) with a walking stick, a hat, a cigar, and a coin. All four things are flying around when, simultaneously, the coin will drop on his toe, the hat on to his head, the cigar into his mouth, and the stick into his hand. Then up flies the coin, clean into his right eye, where it stays for a second to resemble an eyeglass.

10 Yet another trick (No. 10) he performs with a huge family washing tub, weighing 44lbs. Spinning the tub rapidly on the end of a 25-foot pole (which he builds up in four sections) Cinquevalli deliberately dashes the pole from beneath the tub, which falls, the whole 25 feet, with fearful force, on to the spike of his helmet, where it continues to whirl with great rapidity. If, in judging the centre, he is an inch, or less, out, the tub and the performer are sent spinning across the stage. He has not broken his neck yet, but -

12 Once, at a café in Paris, an acquaintance made a bet that Cinquevalli could not lift him in the chair above His head. Accepting the challenge, Paul tried the experiment with a terrified waiter. The next moment the feat proper was accomplished and the wager won. The outcome of this is another trick (No. 12) which shows the tremendous strength of the juggler. He first raises above his head his assistant, seated on a chair, with a table placed over his knees, and then supports all three - a total weight of over 180lbs. - in his teeth, what time he juggles, with perfect composure, with a few balls.

To describe all the three hundred, or more, astounding big and little tricks, performed by Cinquevalli, would fill an issue, but this article is scarcely complete without including a few more.

No. 4 See him, for instance, juggle with a cup, a saucer, a piece of sugar, and a teapot half full of tea. Up they all go, the cup descending into the saucer, the sugar into the cup, and the next instant Cinquevalli has poured out and is offering you a nice cup of hot tea (No. 4).

No. 6 See him hold a blowpipe, loaded with a small dart, in his left hand, and juggle a knife, a fork, and a turnip. The fork is pitched into the air and after it the turnip. A fraction of a second before the prongs of the descending fork can reach it, the dart leaves the blowpipe and is embedded in the turnip, and the united three fall on the blade of the knife to an applause which resembles the crash of a thunderbolt (No. 6).

See him do incomprehensible and inexplicable things with cigar holders and cigars, all sorts and sizes of hats, basins, slippers, lighted candles, daggers, bottles, barrels, Gladstone bags, and practically everything from a little bit of paper to the enormous washing tub already mentioned.

11 See him keep four hats in the air, two of them spinning, balanced, on wands, and all continually interchanging (No. 11); and finally, see him hurl upwards a bottle of soda water, and as it falls thrust the ferrule of all umbrella into the neck, which opens the bottle, the umbrella opening just in time to receive the shower of soda water (No. 8). At home Cinquevalli's favourite exercise is sitting down to write a letter with one hand, keeping four balls in the air with another, and conversing with one or more persons in the room, all at the same time. No. 8 Cinquevalli is always practising, and will often, whilst in the act of dressing, rush about his bedroom balancing a tooth-brush on his nose, and juggling with comb, soap, slippers, and anything handy. He frequently takes delight in playing harmless practical jokes at home, and once took away the breath of his guests at dinner by throwing up the dish of soup and catching and spinning it on his forefinger over the table, observing with a smile, 'It's only cooling'. Later, at the same dinner. an opposite guest heard a cry of 'Look out!' There was a plate of cheese coming across the table, having apparently been aimed straight at his head. No mishap, however, occurred, for the plate alighted on the table exactly between the knife and fork in front of the guest.

Cinquevalli - admittedly the greatest of all jugglers - combines strength and delicacy of manipulation as no one else has, or probably ever will again; and, what is still more to the point, he always has something novel, more daring, or clever than he has ever attempted before. The Adelaide Critic said of him when he was in Australia two years ago: 'Cinquevalli is a wonder incarnate, a perambulating mass of amazement. You know his tricks are impossible while he is doing them. He does the thing that never was, and the thing that never will be, and miracles are his daily amusement; his rapidity is that of chain lightning chasing a fiery thunderbolt, and his fun is such that the house is kept poised hysterically between two shocking possibilities, of laughing itself into fits or being amazed out of its seven senses. You leave the theatre conscious that the English language does not contain adjectives big enough for Cinquevalli; and later you try to explain what he is to your friends and fail miserably. This daddy of all jugglers, past and present, must be seen to be understood'.

Cinquevalli sailed from England on 4 September, and is now on a twenty-six weeks' tour of America. That finished, he will tour the rest of the world, visiting New Zealand, Australia, China, India, Japan, etc. Although travelling mostly for health and pleasure, Paul will, by way of practice, put in no less than sixty six weeks of engagements. He is not, as has been rumoured, retiring from the stage, but on his return to England, in two years' time, will make his reappearance at the London Hippodrome.

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