Jim Neff with Sergei Ignatov (Ginny Rose photo)
Five members of the Buffalo, N.Y., Juggling Club attended a performance of the Moscow Circus in October in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. They didn't know if there would be a juggler on the bill, but brought along an IJA baseball cap they could present if the opportunity arose.
They were ecstatic when Sergei Ignatov's name appeared in the program. The Russian virtuoso whose 11 ring juggle astounded American jugglers on a tour of the USA in 1978 had not been in North America since.
A security guard arranged for the Buffalo Jugglers to speak with Ignatov during the show. They presented him with the IJA hat and he put it on.
The first question he asked was the whereabouts of Anthony Gatto and Kris Kremo. He had worked with Gatto in Germany about three years ago and wanted to meet both jugglers again.
He said he is fully recovered from surgery to repair a neck injury suffered several years ago and is juggling again full-time. Ignatov then had to leave for his own performance, but promised to talk to the group again after the show.
His 10 minute routine was electrifying. A written description can hardly do justice to his smoothness and finesse. He runs into the ring juggling five clubs, then sets them down one at a time while still juggling. He picked up four large orange balls and kicked a fifth ball into the pattern from behind. Tricks with five include a pirouette, high and low patterns, shower and multiplex. He then cascaded seven.
He set six rings on the floor in a stand and put a seventh on his neck. He grabbed the six from the floor two at a time, pirouetted, then went into seven by pulling the one off his neck. He did two half pirouettes with seven and finished with a smooth five ring pancake juggle.
He returned to his five clubs and kicked them up with his toe into a cascade. Effortless back crosses followed. He then did four clubs, making smooth transitions from fast triple spins to slow singles. The routine included multiplex tosses of four as well.
His polished three club routine included back crosses, Albert throws and a beautiful transition from very fast triple spins to flats in the blink of an eye.
For his finale, he juggled seven rings, pulled two more out of a belt holster and ended by pulling all nine rings down over his head.
The Buffalo jugglers met him again ringside. He has been practicing English daily for about six months and was able to understand most of the conversation. He was surprised and curious to find the Americans knew so much about him. Ginny Rose complimented him on his nine ring juggle and he responded, "That's easy." Paul Kois, age 68, told him he had never seen a juggler do what Ignatov did in the ring, and Ignatov responded with a big hug.
He said his daily routine at the Moscow Circus includes a two-hour session of stretching and yoga each morning, an hour's jog and three hours of juggling in the afternoon.
There are no organized juggling groups in the USSR and no commercial sales of props. Ignatov makes his own clubs, and didn't like the popular European Custom club he was shown. He said the handle was too hard and it was not balanced in the right spot. His clubs balance exactly in the middle.
Ignatov said he can do 10 rings very well, but doesn't perform it because of the uncertain lighting in most arenas. He said he is working on polishing up 11 again. The neck injury set him back to the point where he believes it will take another two years of practice to regain his old form.
When asked if he would like to attend an IJA convention, he expressed interest, but said it would be a government decision.
The Moscow Circus will be coming to the USA in 1988, but Ignatov will be spending next summer in Japan. He returned to the USSR and performances there in November.