In the middle of September, brothers Edgard and Ascold Zapashny, the renowned predator-tamers of the legendary circus dynasty ‘Zapashny’ are bringing to Minsk circus, a brand new show called ‘K.U.K.L.A’. The organizers of the show promise that this brand new show will leave even the most jaded viewers both stunned and amused.
Several fortuitous events were critical to the founding of the Zapashny circus dynasty, which began when a Baltic German, Carl Tomson, toured Russia as ‘Milton the Clown’. After the Civil War, the clown’s daughter married Michael Zapashny (Ascold and Edgard’s grandfather). Michael Zapashny appeared in the circus accidentally, he was a young, well-muscled loader in the port of Yeisk and it was during this time that he greatly impressed the legendary fighter Ivan Poddubny. Ivan took Michael Zapashny out of the docks and into the performance world. Michael became a fighter and later a circus ‘strong man’ and acrobat. One day Michael decided to sign on with Milton the Clown’s troupe, where he met and then married Milton’s lovely daughter.
Michael did not want to hear a word about his children following in his circus footsteps, but follow him they did, and with a vengeance. The children of Michael Zapashny (and Milton’s daughter) chose the most dangerous circus genre of all and became predator tamers.
Edgard Zapashny recalls his baby pictures:
“Do you remember the first time you saw your parents? I have photos where I’m a little boy, standing near a small tiger the same age as I was. It feels like they’ve always been beside me”.
Edgar says the circus arts have been refined over the years, and now techniques borrowed from theatre, sport, and music are masterfully employed to entice and entrance the modern audience
“Ballet is not interesting for a child, and not every person enjoys the music of Philip Kirkorov, but the ever-changing achievements and amazements of the circus arts appeal to all ages and tastes. The circus has indeed come a long way; from the brutal bouts between animals, or between men and animals staged in the Roman Coliseum to the exquisitely graceful national circuses of China and other nations. In Holland there’s a gay-circus. One unforgettable act features two men in bed performing a series of acrobatic stunts, interweaving themselves with each other”.
We came to aviary with lions. Behind a grid two big cats, lionesses, lounge about, paying us no attention.
“Hey!” Shouts Edgard loudly, clapping his hands and gesturing where they should go “ You go right, and you left!”
The lionesses are accustomed to visitors’ attention, and as we walk past, they give Edgard a brief, cold stare, and go back to their lounging.
“The talent of a tamer springs from a natural wish to work with animals, a natural love – says Zapashny- this grid here is not to protect human from wild animals, but to protect animal from visitors who might unwisely throw the objects which may cause the animals great suffering. That’s the reason for the signs: ‘Don’t feed the animals!’ People who violate this rule don’t belong in a circus arena”.
Edgard’s world is a dangerous one. In a previous interviews he said, “When I was a child, tigers seriously injured my grandpa, and he later died of gangrene.” Later, he watched in horror as tigers attacked his mother, leaving twenty enormous scars on her legs.
“Animal rights activists sometimes mistakenly accuse tamers of being cruel to their beasts. This profession requires an intense desire to communicate with animals. To make an animal rely on you, you first should rely on it”– considers the famous tamer.
Edgard spoke of the bravery of a fellow tamer:
“Not so long ago Vitaly Smolyanez, a tamer, lost both his legs in a car crash. He walks with crutches, but has nonetheless returned to training his animals. If the tamer is cruel to anyone, it is to himself. One fall – and he’s a victim. Everything on the floor is considered by the tiger as his prey”.
Edgar Zapashny assures us that a tamer who works with huge predators does not have to be a bodybuilder, “I don’t look like a weak man, but Margarita Nazarova and Karina Bagdasarova, well-known women-tamers, work with tigers and lions as well as strong men do”.
“A tamer’s work is to establish a common language between man and predator. You need to train yourself to understand the animals’ language and you need to train the animal to understand yours. The animal is always less clever than we are, and whether you hurt it or caress it, feed it or not, it’ll never be smarter than you. All tamers know: if a tiger attacks, it means that the tamer overlooked something the tiger said to him”-stated Edgard.
While we are passing a zebra aviary, Edgard suddenly assumes an offensive posture and clenches his fists:
“If I threaten you, your first reaction is to protect yourself, and kick me. But if your mom hushes you and stamps her foot, what will be your first reaction? ‘Mom, I will never do this again!’ That’s because the mother-child relationship is built on respect and a bit on fear. In my childhood ,every now and then my mom would cuff me on the back of the head”.
Now it’s a common view that it’s forbidden to lay a hand on a child.
“But what the child will grow up into? An adult who doesn’t respect anyone, who doesn’t know the word ‘no’, who can’t set reasonable boundaries; who doesn’t care about his parents. Grown children forget their parents and send them to a nursing home. However,if a parent can punish a child without hurting it, the child will learn to respect her elders. My dad brought me up harshly, but I thank him for every time he cuffed me on the back of the head. Due to this upbringing I respect people, don’t offend women and animals”.
Edgard continued- “Raising children and training animals are both based on the principle of ‘carrots and sticks’, but ‘carrots’ doesn’t mean spoiling, and ‘sticks’ doesn’t mean cruelty. Sometimes ‘punishment’ can be as simple as telling a child to ‘hush’.When I was a child, a stern word or gesture from my father could so morally crush me, that I thought ‘Dad, I’d rather be kicked!’.This example teaches everything you need to know about the right approach in both child raising and animal training”.
I am sure you’ve seen “The Life of Pi”. What would you do in such a situation?
“Of course, the first wish is to survive and this feeling is the same for everyone who gets caught in such a stressful situation,
but I only weakly believe in reality of that story. At the beginning we saw how easily the wild tiger killed a sheep. He wouldn’t be friends with a man if he’s hungry. In this context I prefer the ‘Madagascar’ cartoon. When the lion, Alex, was starving, he would look at his friends and see only ham. It’s nature, and an animal can’t do anything about it”.
Text by TUT.by
Photo by Dmitry Brushko, TUT.by