Far From Home, High Above Earth

Circus Sarasota Welcomes Ukrainian Aerialists to Its 25th Anniversary Season

The female duo from the war-torn country will add both beauty and drama to this year's performances, Feb. 10 through March 5.

By Kay Kipling February 2, 2023

Duo aerial straps act Anastasiia Kornieieva, top, and Maryna Tkachenko performed at the Circus Arts Conservatory gala last week.

Image: Cliff Roles

Circus Sarasota, which celebrates its 25th anniversary year starting this month with performances under the Big Top at Nathan Benderson Park, always boasts an international lineup of circus artists, from jugglers to high-wire walkers to hand balancers. This season, there’s a stronger than usual emotional component to that diversity: the duo straps act of Maryna Tkachenko and Anastasiia Kornieieva, who hail from war-torn Ukraine.

It's a world premiere act taking place high above the ground, which may provide a respite of sorts for the duo, who cannot help but have family back home on their minds. While the performers’ mothers have made it to safety in Bulgaria and Poland, many male relatives remain behind in Ukraine—some in Kyiv, some farther east near Donetsk, where the fighting has often raged heavily.

Tkachenko began the act with a different partner several years ago, but both she and Kornieieva have plenty of experience in solo aerial work as well. Circus co-founder Pedro Reis spotted them in the prestigious International Circus Festival in Monte Carlo, and knew he wanted to book them to perform in the shows here.

But it wasn’t all that easy, he says. He and co-founder and wife, Dolly Jacobs, needed to apply for sponsor visas for the performing pair, a lengthy paperwork process with no guarantees of success. In this case, however, the visas were awarded, meaning Tkachenko and Kornieieva are able to work in this country for up to two years.

Reis says Circus Sarasota is working with other members of the Global Alliance of Circus Schools to support circus artists from Ukraine, which means he’s also hoping to find the duo venues to perform in after Circus Sarasota closes. Kornieieva, 27, says she’s crossing her fingers and “hoping for the best” as far as possibilities for more work. It’s the best way they can help their families back home.

The act will close Circus Sarasota shows each performance in a world premiere.

Image: Cliff Roles

Tkachenko, 40, says her father was not allowed to leave Ukraine, and there was a period of 45 days “when I didn’t know if he was alive or not. It was terrible. You can’t imagine it; you work, you hear the news.”

Kornieieva adds, “There are some times when they have no electricity, so they cannot charge their phones. Even when we can talk, we cannot see them. We need to work and help them, and there is no work there [in Ukraine], so we do appreciate we are able to do this here.”

The duo will be the closing act of the circus for each show, and Reis says the routine will be capped each night by a short film montage, with footage of Russians saying “no war,” members of the United Nations applauding Ukraine President Volodymr Zelenskyy’s recent visit there, and, in a final moment, the draping of the Ukrainian flag over Maryna and Anastasiia’s shoulders. It’s sure to be a compelling moment for stars and audiences alike. Reis says he wants everyone to see the beauty of the duo’s act, but also “to remember there’s a war going on there.”

In addition to the duo straps act, Circus Sarasota’s 25th anniversary shows, running from Feb. 10-March 5, will welcome ringmaster Joseph Bauer Jr., clown Al “Renaldo” Calienes, tempo diablo juggling act Chu Chuan-Ho, hand balancer Oleg Izossimov, tight wire performers The JuJus, Sarasota native Sylvia Zerbini and her Liberty Horses, Johnny Peers and the Muttville Comix, aerial silks artist Alan Silva, Russian barre artists Trio Addis and unicyclist Wesley Williams. For tickets, call (941) 355-9805 or visit circusarts.org.

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