From the flashing lights, the smell of the popcorn to clowns, glitters, animals, and everything in between, the circus is an impressive sight that entices many people. Every show is something to enjoy, with the entertainment ranging from remarkable skills and grace to weird antics, all of which elicit a unique yet memorable experience. One of the renowned Russian circus artists that left people in awe is Askold Waltevorich Zapashny, a representative from the Zapashny circus dynasty, which spans four generations and performs their hearts out for the amusement of their spectators.
Born on September 27, 1977, in Kharkiv, Russia, circus life runs in Askold Askold Walterovich Zapashny’s blood with his parents, Walter and Tatyana Zapashny, grandparents, and even grandfathers serving as circus performers. He has a brother named Edgard, who was born in Yalta, a year earlier than Askold. Their family lived a pretty nomadic life, having to tour across the country to do their shows.
Though specializing in domesticating wild beasts for the circus, things were never easy for the Askold’s parents, always putting their lives in jeopardy. One incident made severe lacerations on her mother’s feet after a tiger attack. At the same time, his father also sustained several injuries, from broken limbs, neck to terrible wounds, which Walter miraculously survived. Nevertheless, it was the way his parents knew, so they carried on doing the circus despite always risking their lives on the thin line between life and death.
Askold and Edgard studied in the same class together despite the one-year age gap. However, traveling the country meant the siblings had to switch schools. That is while juggling training under their strict father, who employed challenging and exhaustive priming of their skills.
First Taste of the Circus
At the age of 10, Askold participated in his first circus performance, entering a cage with tigers and officially debuting a year after. In 1988-1989, the family performed in Riga, Latvia, where the public warmly accepted the two boys.
Two years later, the family toured China. However, it was a tough time for them as their animals were placed on the edge of starvation, with the feeding the tigers and lions meant taking a massive part of the daily expenses, plus it didn’t help that the cost increased every day, given the situation in the 1990s.
Opportunely, China offered their parents a hefty contract, allowing them to save the animals. By then, the siblings had already finished school, eliminating the need to make a difficult decision to continue going overseas or not. The family’s circus was erected in a Safari Park situated in Shenzhen, where their father also trained Chinese circus men.
Askold was a fast-learner, grasping the Chinese language swiftly, in which he is still fluent as of today. He also honed skills and learned how to train monkeys and juggle while standing on horses. Furthermore, he became a voltigeur, tightrope Walker, and rolling skate acrobat while also training predatory animals. His brother was on the same page, and with rigorous training, they’ve reached new heights.
At the end of their contract in China, the Zapashny family went back to Moscow, continued to perform in major cities post-Soviet era, and managed to tour some countries overseas.
Making His Own Mark
In 1998, Walter Zapashny conferred the attraction “Among The Predators” to his sons. With all the training and wisdom imparted by their part, the brothers have developed their own skills in perilous yet magnificent arts of taming animals. Soon, the two also established their own circus, the “Circus of Zapashny Brothers,” and created their own style and performed across the country and abroad.
Some of their shows were authored and directed by Askold, including “Camelot” (2008), “Legend” (2011), and “Terrible Power” (2013), and “The Human Factor” (2016), with all leaving viewers in complete delight. In 2012, Askold was awarded the People’s Artist of Russia recognition, the same distinction his father, Walter, earned in 1988.
His other notable awards include “Artist of the Year” from the Union of Circus Workers in 1999, a Guinness Book of Records award in 2006 along with his brother for the longest lion jump with a man on his back, Golden Bear Awards in 2007 and 2012, and a Silver Clown Award from the 41st International Circus Festival in Monaco in 2017.
A real star, Askold Zapashny was also invited and appeared on various TV shows, such as the “Ice Age,” “Street Fun,” “Empire of Illusion: The Safronov Brothers,” “One Hundred to One,” and “Main Role.” Since September 2018, Askold is serving as Professor of the Department of Circus Directing of the Russian Institute of Theatre Arts.