O. A. Alberts

DIE DEUTSCHE ARTISTIK (German Entertainment Arts), Berlin, August 1939

Translated by Robert Held and Presented by Adrian Sullivan

IJA Newsletter, January 1964

The recent article in a West-German newspaper about "the juggler of emperors and kings," Michael Kara, evoked memories of a man who belongs among those three dozen celebrities of variety theatre whose names are engraved in the stone tablets of entertainment history. It has been necessary for us to grow accustomed to the fact that such newspaper and magazine articles do not always reflect reality; and indeed, the Editor of DIE DEUTSCHE ARTISTIK came upon an error in the article in question, viz.: that Kara had allegedly resigned himself to the success of the young Rastelli, and had retired.

Balance and ballsBut in fact, at the time when the Italian appeared on the scene, Kara had already long vanished from view. It was not resignation that drove the celebrated "gentleman juggler" of the turn of the century into loneliness and withdrawal; rather, he fell subject to the natural law which commands all performers to vacate the stage when the nerves have been exhausted. It would be fundamentally wrong to assume that Kara may have watched Rastelli's career enviously, for his own active life was rich with triumphs. More than thirty years separate Kara's heyday and the heyday of "The Miracle of the Dancing Balls," but they could not have been considered rivals even if they had worked at the same time, for their presentations were so widely dissimilar. Alone their respective ways of coming on stage, if one considers well, must be taken as proof of the fact that there can hardly be greater dissimilarity between two jugglers: Rastelli made his entrance with a ballet leap to the footlights, throwing the ball; Kara remained invisible for half a minute after the music had stopped, then sauntered out, from the wings with the nonchalance of a man whose motto is that success can only be achieved through calm and quiet. Rastelli was the personification of effervescent temperament and whirling life, though these were tamed in those phases of his work in which he had to assume a restful attitude, which is to say in the balancing feats which constituted such a considerable portion of his performances. But save for these immobile moments, everything about him was tireless movement: the astounding mechanism or his hands, his head - indeed, of his whole body - ran on irresistibly as though in perpetual motion. The most minute pause was filled with the restiveness of this dancing juggler, who seemed to have not two eyes but a hundred, and who accumulated a treasure of spectacular achievements. But Kara could claim no less of a treasure, save that in his case the method was different: his were the restrained, subdued manners of a gentleman in white tie and tails moving in measured steps across the stage. The difference was one between a 100-yard-dash racer and a leisurely promenader, both of whom, in some miraculous way, manage to cover the same distance in an equal span of time. There were no dead moments during the performance of the man in formal attire, either; even while his left hand was still juggling the four coins, which would finally flow delicately into a vest pocket, his right hand was already reaching toward a table on which rested a top hat on which in turn rested a burning cigar - and with one gracious sweeping motion, the hat landed on his head and the cigar between his lips. All Kara's action was en passant, a passing stream; his performance was a chain of astounding surprises for the spectator.

It would be vain and useless to compare and appraise, one by one, the wealth of tricks and feats which the two masters brought to show as though by magic in the course of their thirty- or forty-minute acts. Someone who saw both at the height of their powers could probably draw certain parallels, but these would not lead to any one common result or goal, unless it be the utterly boundless mystification of the public. One basis for comparison might be mentioned - but even here, one must be very cautious in drawing conclusions in view or the absence or a scale of evaluation or the phenomena involved: in astoundingly brief time, a great number of imitators very closely approximated Rastelli, although no one has ever imitated successfully his charm and individuality; Kara, too, had a small army of imitators, but many of his feats and tricks have not been seen again to the present day. Let us say that perhaps it is because the game with balls and sticks is easier to master than the legerdemain with Kara's strange and gentlemanly paraphernalia. However it be, this little riddle must continue to be considered beyond solution.

It would be wicked to attempt to deprecate the glory and achievements of one or the other of the two celebrities on any basis or casual observation or ill-founded judgments. Both were accorded the highest admiration of their contemporaries; the luminosity which attached to the elder may have been a trifle brighter than that or the younger, for the 1890s, the flower-time of entertainment arts, had a strange air of enchantment. Let us rejoice that these two masters belong to our numbers; for us they are immortal, and will live on in our memories through the power or the richness or their art, exquisite, fascinating, marvelous: Michael Kara and Enrico Rastelli!


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