The Man Who Defied Gravity

Season 2
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Episode 7

In the late 1800s, Paul Cinquevalli was one of the most famous and thrilling entertainers in the world. Tales of his juggling and balancing exploits spanned continents. But by the mid 20th century, his name was all but forgotten. In this episode, Sidedoor explores Cinquevalli’s epic rise and fall, and brings you inside the Smithsonian Folklife Festival’s circus tents for a one-of-a-kind Cinquevalli-inspired juggling revival.

The stunts Cinquevalli performed are truly unbelievable. A Strand Magazine article from August 1910 describes a few we weren’t able to mention on the show. But don’t worry— these kinds of performances still exist today! The Smithsonian Folklife Festival hosted hundreds of circus arts performers and practitioners for last summer’s annual celebration on the National Mall. Among them was Thom Wall, who performed vaudeville-style acts similar to Cinquevalli. Check out this video of Thom Wall to get a taste of his work. You can also explore circus-related art from across the Smithsonian. 

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