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Irina Vashchenko - Autobiography

In childhood I dreamed about artistic gymnastics. But I was expelled from this sport because of my "too flexible back". One day, jumping on the trampoline, I landed from a somersault into a full backbend. Seeing that, my coach said that I shouldn't to do this sport. After that I did swimming, running, and only sometime later I entered an amateur circus studio headed by Valentina and Valerii Kuznecovs. My sister brought me there. I began to dream about circus when I saw on TV what Tamara Lyazgina could do. After that I couldn't imagine myself apart from the circus.

There was an excellent circus studio at the Palace of Pioneers. Later it was transformed into the Zoo-Circus attached to the Zoo. We had a lion, pony, horse, bear, and fox. We even gave paid performances - 10 kopecks for a ticket, on Saturdays and Sundays. Many of our amateur artists later became professionals: Igor Markevich, Dmitry Zlodyugin (who now works in the USA, in Disneyland), Nadezhda Romanyuk, and Valya Menyailova. Our coach invented the first act with hula-hoops. Nadezhda Romanyuk was the first to work with hula-hoops riding on horseback. Now Nadezhda lives in Bulgaria.

After finishing eighth grade I tried to join the Moscow School of Circus Art but wasn't accepted because of … "too flexible back". When I was in tenth grade my coach showed me to Mstislav Zapashnyi. He estimated my gifts very highly, and advised me to smile more. He promised to send me a letter and to invite me to Moscow, but. - later. The invitation came when I was already working in Rostov-on-Don and was preparing to marry; so it was impossible to accept the invitation. After finishing 10th grade I went to Kiev to enter the Kiev School of Circus Art, but they had already completed recruiting girls - they had enough for the year. I was allowed to pass all the rounds and all the exams but wasn't accepted. I've got nothing - so I felt then. I was upset very much but I didn't abandon my dream.

Rostov-on-Don. 1979.

I met a former student of our amateur studio, Mila Shanenko, who already was the artist of "The Circus on Stage" in Rostov-on-Don. Mila was looking for a partner for her acrobatic act. She invited my friend and suggested that I go with them to Rostov-on-Don. And I took the risk!

I arrived in Rostov-on-Don in November 1978. There, Viktor Vashchenko and Mark Levin (wonderful man!) took me on as a "probationary" performer. I rehearsed 24 hours a day. And when Olga Grabovskaya (honored artist of Russian ballet) began to work with me - my dream began to come true. Olga created a beautiful swan out of an ugly duckling. She worked on my hands, feet, bearing. I can say that it was these people Olga Grabovskaya, Mark Levin and Viktor Vashchenko who made me what I am now.

My God, what a thrill it was to enter the world of ballet! We rehearsed day and night. I learned to stand and walk on point… At the time in the circus there was a tradition, so to speak, that all the contortionists were lizards, sneaks and so on. We wanted to produce a contortion act performed by a "normal girl", where all the poses are aesthetic and flow out one from another. At this time we invented the trick - "backbend on pointe". The first version of my solo contortion act was produced to the music of Shostakovich, from the movie "Ovod"

About this time I met Vladislav and fell deeply in love. He was beyond reach: he was the son of a producer while I was a beginning artist. Vladislav himself was a producer of acrobatic genres and he also performed an excellent act - "Ikarian games". Vladislav's partners were outstanding too - champions in artistic gymnastics, former athletes of high rank.

When Vladislav and I got married we had to produce a duo act. Otherwise we rarely had an opportunity to work in the same circus show. We’ve met a wonderful ballet-master, Viktor Kravchenko. He decided to produce for us a dramatized act: "Fight between Good and Evil". It was a challenging task. It was necessary to avoid similarity between my solo contortion act and our duo. In a pair act, we shouldn’t use my back. That was a problem! In this work we were helped also by Irina Kravchenko - Viktor’s wife. She is also a pedagogue-choreographer. They taught me acting technique, scenic movement… They taught me everything! Thanks to all the teachers: Mark Levin, Viktor Vashchenko, Olga Grabovskaya, Viktor and Irina Kravchenko we became, I hope I may say so, real artists.

September, 4 1981.

We created a really good duo act. The first part was to the music of Glazunov ("Sheets from an Album"). I was in the hands of a big star. It was like I now had everything. I was spinning, dancing, tumbling in the arena - it was the union between me and this star. And suddenly the storm burst (Music of Cincadze "Demon") - a force of evil appeared - Vladislav on a barrier in a red cloak. He tried to take away my soul - the star. And he almost succeeded. At the end of the act he twirled me around his neck (the trick named "gorget"), and threw me to the earth. It seems that was all -Evil won… But I slowly rose, picked up my star and defeated this Evil! It's strange but even in an ordinary "divertissement show" (consisting of unconnected acts) we were accepted very well.

In 1981, we were spotted by Vladimir V. Volzhansky, who invited us to perform in his circus show "Prometheus". We were afraid that they would shorten our acts to the utmost - and we so much wanted to perform them. But - the miracle happened: Volzhansky didn't even change our phonogram! We moved into the music of Skryabin from the music of "Sheets from an Album" and "Demon".

“Prometheus”, final scene. South America. 1981-1982.
In the center with hands wide open – Nina Chuglaeva.

It was great to work in such a show as "Prometheus"! All the people around were like celestial creatures for us. They were artists of the highest rank: Evgeniya Puhova, Vladislav Volzhansky (son of V.V. Volzhansly), Gussein,… Everybody! Here we became friends with unique artists like Nina Chuglaeva and Vladimir Burakov. They both worked corde de peril - a gymnast on a vertical rope (they performed two different acts, not a duo). I believe that there are no such artists nowadays, and such people will not appear again soon. Nina was like a fire on the rope, as if the rope was burning! And Vladimir was unsurpassed in the role of Prometheus. They worked on this show like nobody ever worked. V.V. Volzhansky was a great artist and administrator. He could light the fire within you, assure you that "without you the holy water will not be holy." Since 1981 to 1986 we worked like it was premiere every day. I am happy I had this!

"Prometheus". Vladislav as Zeus,
Faina Ermakova as Force of light. 1983.

In 1981-1982, we toured South America with "Prometheus". It was a unique tour, I dare say a triumphal tour. There were colossal lines for the tickets. It was wonderful! The show began at 23:00. People lit torches, to greet us, and they dropped sparkles from the roofs of the buildings. It's impossible to forget! We felt that we were the artists of a great and powerful country. We all were proud that in our country, the circus is not a low farce but an art form.


In 1983 I became pregnant. V.V. Volzhansky was ill but continued to work. He had a dream - to enlarge "Prometheus" and produce the show in two acts. Vladimir Volzhansky asked me return to the work as soon as I gave birth. He wanted me to perform two roles - "the sacred fire" (a solo contortion act) and "force of light" (our duo act with Vladislav). Volzhansky didn't live to see it, but I kept my promise and returned to work when my son was four and half months old. I started to work in Ryazan - both acts from the start in full force.

Moscow. New Circus
(Circus on Vorobev Fields). 1984.
Our son Vladimir is six months old.


That's all for now.

I never wrote so much! I see that I haven't said many things, haven't told about many events and people. I'll try to continue! But - it's not easy.

Irina Vashchenko
March, 2002


Moscow. 1984.