Juggler Paul Cinquevalli made four visits to Australia between 1899 and 1914. His act was a rousing success on each occasion. Cinquevalli was a skilled showman who perfected the art of juggling to a degree seldom seen. He travelled the world and one of his favourite places was the Tivoli circuit in Australia.
‘I like Australia’ said the juggler during his 1909 visit.
‘Who could not like a country like this-not only the place and the climate- but look at the audiences and how do they treat me’
Cinq was Polish born but his birth name is disputed. It could have been Emile Otto Lehmann Braun or Paul Braun Lehmann or alternatively Paul Kestner. What is not disputed is the accident that transformed him from trapeze artist to juggler.
Cinquevalli called it ‘the fluke of my life’.
When performing in St Petersburg from the flying trapeze, one of the assistants forgot to wipe the bar of one of the trapeze, and when I swung across space and gripped, my hands slipped. I knew how to fall, that was a part of our training then, but in the downward course I struck one of the wires supporting the poles and this upset my balance and I fell in a heap.
Cinquevalli broke his arm, his leg and crushed his chest. The accident left him with a permanently weakened and slightly misshapen left wrist. The weakness prevented him from continuing a trapeze career
Cinq had always been a juggler and sleight of hand artist in private company and his friends urged him to take it up as a profession. He began juggling ordinary items like matches, cigars and umbrellas and worked his way up to specialty items. He soon became one of the foremost jugglers of his generation.
He was a charming conversationalist with a down to earth manner. Theatre Magazine in Sydney called him ‘unassuming and brilliant.’ He was a small man standing a mere five feet six inches, and weighing only eleven stone. As was expected of a former aerialist, he was graceful and fluid in his movements. He was also a vaudeville artist with a wide variety of skills. He was a formidable weight lifter, an expert mandolinist, an accomplished linguist and had a phenomenal memory. For example he could repeat long columns of figures after one hearing.
The juggler was also a skilled raconteur. In 1909 he was telling people a story of how he escaped a murderous lunatic who had wanted to throw him from an enormous building. Theatre Magazine assured it’s readers that the story was a ‘thrilling and blood curdling’ tale. For the same magazine, Cinquevalli wrote a long article called "Some Juggling Tales." The article detailed his adventures in the juggling trade and showed a self deprecating sense of humour and ability to amuse which must have been part of the man’s character.
His juggling ability was one of the most unusual ever seen. He made up most of his own routines. He would juggle with billiard balls whilst he held in his teeth, a table, a chair and Walter Burford, his assistant. One year he had a pony cart driven on stage. He then balanced the cart expertly on his chin. In another trick he balanced a top hat on an umbrella. On top of the hat was placed a half crown and a cigar. He tossed the whole bundle into the air and caught the cigar in his mouth, the half crown in his right eye and the hat on his head.
Cinquevalli had two famous feats, both of which he performed in Australia. The first was the cannon ball trick. He allowed a cannon ball, said to weigh 50 pound, suspended about six or eight feet above the stage, to drop, and he would catch it on his spine. He got the idea by accident when practising one day
‘When I was balancing a large wooden ball on top of a stick one day just for practice, the ball slipped and fell on the back of my neck without hurting me in the least. It then at once occurred to me that if I could catch a ball by accident on the back of my neck without hurting myself, I ought to be able to do the same thing at any time I wanted to. So I threw the ball up in the air, tried to catch it on the same place, did not quite succeed and was knocked senseless on the floor.
Cinq said that it had taken him a year to perfect the trick. It was one of his most audacious feats and astounded audiences around the world. The juggler considered it one of his most popular deeds, but not his most dangerous.
However, according to Edward Maas, the Tivoli Theatre’s stage manager, Cinq was well aware that he was risking his life every time he performed it. One night in Sydney a member of the audience approached the juggler and concluded.
‘Well it seems to me that the game is not worth the candle. If you miscalculated the ball by half an inch it would probably kill you’.
‘Dare say’ replied Cinquevalli, ‘but you see, I never miscalculate’
His other famous feat was the billiard ball trick. The juggler considered this one of his most difficult tasks and said that it had taken him eight years to perfect it. To perform it he wore a tunic with several pockets. He balanced two billiard balls on the thick end of a cue, which was in turn poised on top of a third ball, balanced on a wine glass which was standing on his forehead. With a flick of his body, the tower collapsed and the three balls found their way into the pockets of the tunic. The expert juggler performed many versions of this trick during his 1909 tour of Australia.
In Sydney that year, Cinquevalli charmed large Tivoli audiences. He was accompanied on stage by an energetic and comical assistant called Walter Burford. Burford had been with Cinq for ten years and knew every nuance of the act. His antics amused audience and critics and were much commented upon. Walter was often balanced in awkward positions by the skilled juggler. Unfortunately he died during the Melbourne part of the tour later in 1909.
Cinq and Burford received a generous reception in Sydney. Cinquevalli had replaced his traditional all black tights with pink fleshings. The alteration was considered ‘frivolous’ by Theatre Magazine. However it did not affect his performance. On the first night, billiard balls travelled down one of Cinquevalli’s arms, across his chest to the other arm. They were balanced and manipulated in all manner of combinations. In another feat, which caused the audience to gasp in amazement, he used a pyramid triangle and a glass of water. The glass of water was placed on the base of the triangle. The triangle in turn was spun quickly above the head on the tip of a cue, not a drop of water spilt to the stage. The juggler had made a specialty of manipulating ordinary objects. He juggled a piece of paper, a billiard ball and a cannon ball with ease. As a finale he manipulated a hat, an umbrella and a portmanteau.
The Referee newspaper called him mystifying and dazzling. It referred to him as ‘the great Paul Cinquevalli.’ It was his third tour of Australia and every performance was well attended. Cinquevalli’s managers had asked him to refrain from introducing new tricks to the act. The attraction was the familiarity of the performance and the skill with which it was done. The public lined up to witness the famous billiard ball and cannon ball feats. Cinq was therefore forced to perform these wherever he went or risk alienating his audience.
Cinq performed before royalty in every country. He entertained Queen Victoria and appeared many times before Edward the Seventh. He was popularly acclaimed as the world’s greatest juggler. Due to this almost universal popularity, he had no need to continue performing. He apparently attempted to retire at least twice. Once when he was thirty four and again when he was forty five. Yet he became miserable after each attempt. Cinq thrived on the thrill of performing before an audience. He could not live happily without the joy of performing on stage.
Cinquevalli made another trip to Australia in 1914, but his career was to be permanently affected by the First World War. He was a man of Polish and German extraction and as such was ostracised by press and public, who were anxious to show their patriotism. Although Cinq had been entertaining audiences for over 20 years, he was now considered an enemy. The man who could not give up the stage lights had them dimmed by racial prejudice. Cinquevalli died broken hearted in 1918.
He was a man of many talents, an intelligent, humorous, individual who entertained audiences all around the world. He was a brilliant juggler, a funny raconteur and a man who lived for his profession. Jugglers and theatre lovers everywhere honour Cinquevalli’s name.