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Anastasiya Smirnova the animal trainer: how to raise a star out of a tigress

October 10, 2017

That part of our audience who has seen Khachaturyans Spartacus ballet with the choreography of Georgy Kovtun admits the performance impresses with crowd scenes, true to life fighting scenes and choreography rich in complex stunts. The audience was particularly excited to see the tigress Shakira - a noble, queenlike carnivore walk across the stage accompanied by a tiny, subtle lady. The tigress is usually walk on stage with Anastasiya Smirnova, who trains and raises the Bengal tigress and many other animal artists. The trainer shared with us how she managed to master acting skills with a dangerous predator.

Few people can say they do what they love in their lives. It happened in my life, that due to a lucky break my childhood dream came true. I loved animals since I was a kid, I dreamt of working with them, and I seized the opportunity what it appeared, despite getting a degree in a different sphere of knowledge. In my childhood I took care of smaller cats, now I work with really big predators of cat family: tigers, leopards, jaguars and other animals (even a chimp). Now its business of my life. My other dream came true when Shakira and me were invited to take part in Spartacus ballet.

The Animals Brothers company, where Shakira works along with the other animal actors was founded about ten years ago taking after Hollywoods experience. There was no training academy in Russia and circus animal were usually used for the scenes, but no one studied their psychology. So we traveled to the USA, got acquainted with the way they work and immediately realized we want our animals to be developed all-round. In Hollywood they usually train an animal for certain scenes in a certain project, they have a budget designed for that particular purpose and a number of goal to achieve. As you can see it with Shakira, our students may star in ballet, in commercials, in fashion shows, circus performances, TV shows, movie making.. Our main goal is to train versatile artists.

Animal participating in movies and performances may be trained or well educated. Our disciples go with the last category. We live 24\7 with the cubs, future artists, with pacifiers and bottles. We may sleep on one bed with them, like a lady with a dog, only in my case its a tiger cub or a panther cub.

Animal is like a child. You learn his psychology, you observe, you try to find an appropriate approach and show him the world. Then training and educating starts. You start with games, avoiding external irritants, you let the animal do what he wants. You could have noticed that Shakira loves being onstage, enjoys the applause; but as for ballet, she usually tears around the cage but then strides across the stage, enjoying the attention. A lot of animals love being in the limelight, loved and adored. Thats why they usually take well all stresses caused by changes, flights like a part of eventful artistic life.

Anything you do, you will succeed if you make enough effort; if you are talented in addition to that, you will achieve significantly more, you only have to take the right direction. Same goes for the animals: when he needs to learn a certain stunt and he cant make it for a long time, would you believe, he upsets just like a human being. You need a unique approach for each case: this guy may need a concern, that guy to be shouted at. What we do is not a typical training, we educate an animal and we learn through that as well. At first our relations look like a mother-child type, then we grow partners. You get to understand your disciple, his mood, his condition with the way he walks, he looks, all tiny movements. And with that in mind you need to remember he is still a predator, you should never lose self control, keep an animal in sight constantly. This is a great responsibility to work with such a dangerous animal, especially in public places.