Juggler's World: Vol. 38, No. 4

All our Yesterdays

Enrico Rastelli would have been 90

[Rastelli balances ball on toe photo]

He was born into a second generation circus family in Samara, Russia, Dec. 19, 1896. His father was a juggler on horseback earning near-starvation wages. His mother was a trapeze artist. Against his father's wishes that he become an acrobat, Rastelli secretly practiced juggling. He soon overtook his father's skill, and could do seven balls after six years.

In 1915 he took his first job as a solo juggler in Circus Truzzi. Half-a-year later his father started his on circus. It employed Rastelli as a juggler and, with his mother, a perch pole artist. But World War I broke up the show and the family fled Russia and increasing fame for anonymity in Italy. He picked up there where he left off in Russia. Married now to Stella-Henriette Price, Rastelli became an overnight sensation in Circus Gatti.

By 1922 he was at the London Hippodrome, and a year later at the New York Hippodrome. His act was lively, but contrasted movement with repose. In one routine he sat on a stool with a ball balanced on each foot, another on each knee, two on top of each other on a mouthstick and two more balanced similarly on a forehead stick. With that perfectly balanced, he spun a ball on each finger.

In another trick he stood balanced on his right foot alone. On his left ankle he spun a hoop, a stick rotated on his forehead, he spun a ball with his right hand and juggled three sticks with his left hand. Audiences throughout Europe and in America during a second tour in 1928 were astonished. In one number he bounced a ball on his head, juggled six plates, spun a hoop on one leg and jumped rope with the free foot!

He practiced from sun-up to sun-down, constantly reminding himself that every minute and manner of life must center around the furtherance of his art. His wife was quoted as saying, "He wants movement, practice, practice! No cafes, no social life, no excursions for us! We spent the whole day at the theatre. He practices, we look on. And mind you, we would not change it for any other life!"

She and a man named Umberto Schichtolz worked as his assistant during the 30-45 minute show. He conversed with them for long periods of time as he bounced two balls with his head.

He worked with several large apparatuses. He did a free headstand on one which turned while he spun a pole with his feet and juggled three batons upside-down. He also lay on his back on a large globe, juggled three sticks, spun a large star on a toe, spun a hoop with the other foot and spun a small star on a mouthstick.

He never cascade juggled to any degree, preferring pairs juggling. He was a complete master of eight balls, and was known to have thrown up ten for one rotation on an occasion in Russia. He used wooden sticks, evenly balanced with one end designated as the handle. He could juggle six very low at fantastically quick pace, and could also do eight. He performed with six torches, and showed great physical stamina in juggling three of them under each leg as he goose-stepped three times around a large stage.

He overcame the peculiar shape of plates to do eight. He began three in each hand and grabbed the last pair from holsters on his legs. All this while balancing a tall object on his forehead.

His death at age 34 in Bergamo was unexpected and untimely. An infection caused by his mouthpiece was the cause. Though the doctors forbid his last performance due to increasing illness, proceeds from the show were to go to the city's indigent people and Rastelli insisted on performing. The theatre was overflowing and he wanted to create a memorable evening. But when the curtain dropped, he was sad and broken. The supreme effort had burned out his life force, and the shadows were already descending on him.

All our Yesterdays / Index, Vol. 38, No. 4 / jis@juggling.org
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