For jugglers the name of Sergei Ignatov needs no introduction. He is renown for his remarkable, almost unbelievable, feats with five and seven balls; with three, four and five clubs and numbers of rings up to and including the legendary number of eleven. The program of the Moscow circus describes him thus:
"As a professional juggler, Sergei constantly strives to maintain the intensity of emotion he experienced as a child when viewing the circus for the first time. It is this never-relaxed state of "living on the edge" to which Sergei attributes his success. This intense motivation is both exciting and electrifying to behold."
He has visited North America three times, the first time in 1977 on a tour which pushed back conceptions on what it seemed possible to do with five clubs as well as demonstrating his skill with nine, ten, and eleven rings, and the second time in 1988 when the Moscow circus crossed Canada on a two month tour and finally in 1991 when the IJA hosted him at their St. Louis Convention.
The first stop of the 1988 tour was in Halifax where I had a chance to meet and get to know Sergei Ignatov. I speak fluent Russian and spent some months studying in Moscow where I had the opportunity to see the Moscow circus in situ. Ignatov was then (in 1979) elsewhere and I saw his routine for the first time in the giant Halifax Metro Center where the circus performed. Over subsequent days we met and talked and I had a chance to see his warm-up routine and parts of the Chopin routine which he was not able to perform on this tour. I also had the opportunity to meet his charming wife, tightrope-walker Marina Osinskaya. Sergei also has a brother who is a juggler.
Sergei was born in East Germany where his father, an army officer, was stationed. He returned to Moscow when he was two months old where he has lived ever since. If you've ever wondered what Ignatov does for relaxation you might be interested in knowing that he is an astute admirer of art. He has visited art galleries throughout the world on his travels and finds that viewing art is a relaxing activity.
Sergei's warm up routine is a slow and methodical one. Before starting juggling he spends about an hour doing yoga-like exercises to relax his body and put him in the correct frame of mind. The next hour is spent on calisthenics and working with single or small numbers of objects. He is very concerned about correct body posture and alignment and observes himself carefully to ensure that the positions of his hands and arms are correct. Only then does he start working with the routines in his act. He moves quickly between rings, balls and clubs for the next two and a half hours, never letting himself grow tired with one routine; always allowing one set of his muscles to rest while exercising another set. After that he rests in the afternoon and then does a one hour warm up and rehearsal before his evening performance.
In performance he was doing nine rings flawlessly. In rehearsal he showed me ten rings which he did several times without any drops, finishing by pulling them down over his head. I watched him throw eleven rings at the end of his rehearsal, my eyes bulging from my head. He dropped a couple after some seventeen or eighteen throws and apologized since he was not really sufficiently warmed up, having speeded up the tempo of his work-out so that I could see all the material he was working on.
He manufactures his own props himself and to many western jugglers they would appear comparatively crude and simple. The rings, for example, are quite hard and inflexible. The large and soft balls which he uses are children's balls which he bought in Japan and the like of which, he says, he has not been able to find anywhere else.
Sergei Ignatov is a thoughtful observer of the medium of juggling. Here is a short extract of his thoughts on juggling.