Behind the scenes at Zacada Circus: A Q&A with co-founder Kosta Zakharenko

If you meet Kosta Zakharenko at a cocktail party and ask him what he does, chances are he’ll pause, chuckle, and say “I own a circus school.” If that conjures up images of clowns and elephants, you’d be wrong. The close to 80,000 children that have gone through the doors of Zacada Circus since it opened in 2007 will tell you it’s like gymnastics—or ballet—but way harder. And often high off the ground.

In honour of Zacada’s 10th anniversary and to introduce ourselves to the neighbourhood (our Foothills of Winona development is just down the street from the school), we sat down with Kosta for a quick chat. If you want to find out what it was like to perform with Cirque du Soleil, the big dream that led to Zacada and where the school’s graduates are today—read on.

You use the phrase “circus arts.” What exactly is that?

In Europe, circus is considered an art like ballet. I’m from Ukraine, and in Russia and Ukraine it’s a national art form. Every large city has an architecturally beautiful round-shaped building that’s used only for circus. Here in Canada, Cirque du Soleil bought circus to a different level. Circus arts combines all the disciplines: dance, gymnastics, music, visual art, drama.

What was it like to be part of Cirque du Soleil?

I was on tour with Cirque du Soleil for 10 years and did more than 4000 shows all over the world. It was an incredible experience. We like to say the circus is family, and I definitely spent more time with my circus family than I did with my actual family when I was touring with Cirque.

What was the big dream behind Zacada Circus?

You can get tired of even the best things. I met my wife when we were on tour together with Cirque du Soleil and after five years we wanted to try something new. Our dream was to open something special and transfer our knowledge to the young ones. Of course we wanted to offer recreational programs for children who just want to jump, swing and play, but from the beginning we wanted an advanced program. Today we’re selling out shows across southern Ontario—we just signed a 60-show contract for the Greg Frewin Theatre in Niagara Falls—and 80 per cent of our performers come from the school. Our students are at a world class performance level.

Do you have children yourself? What do they think of Zacada?

I have two kids, age 7 and 4. They think Zacada is a big playground. We just opened a Ninja Warrior course and my son loves that. My daughter loves it all. I’m a professional athlete so of course I want to train them but I also don’t want to push too hard and kill the joy. It’s that balance. Plus, teaching your own kids is the hardest. I’d rather teach other people’s kids.

Where did the name Zacada come from?

It’s a mix of my last name and my wife’s: Zakharenko and Cadeau.

What do children learn at the school?

You name it. Hard work, team work, supporting each other. It’s a very good environment because it’s not competitive. The kids are working towards a common goal—to put on a show, to achieve their best. You’re competing against yourself, and everybody wins.

Where are your graduates now?

Every year six or seven of our students are chosen to spend the summer at the National Circus School in Montreal and some of our students attend the national school fulltime. Our first generation of students—the ones who started when they were 10—are now experienced performers at the age of 20. One just came back from nine months touring in Europe and another from a tour in Central America. They’re both teaching at the school now. They want to build the community and give back.

Why did you choose the location at Barton and Fruitland Road?

My wife is originally from Smithville and when we left Cirque du Soleil we wanted to live near one of our families. We chose Canada and bought a house in Grimsby. We love being near the water and the Bruce Trail, with Niagara Falls on one side of us and Toronto on the other. But for the school it wasn’t geography so much as finding a building with a certain height and enough clear space. We started in an elementary school gym and then moved to our current location. Originally we rented 7,000 sq. ft. but over 10 years we’ve expanded twice when neighbours moved out. Our facility is now at 18,000 sq. ft.

What are your plans for the future?

You can always go bigger but we enjoy the place we are right now. When we moved here people thought the circus was the Big Top. Now there’s a very strong circus arts community: just like there’s hockey parents and dance parents, there’s circus parents. We’re really happy to be part of the community and we hope that we’re bringing something unique and special to Niagara Region and Stoney Creek.

 

DiCenzo Homes is excited to be building its newest community of townhouse, semi-detached and single family homes in Winona, just minutes from such innovative and creative neighbours as Zacada Circus. Want to learn more about Foothills of Winona and all the wonderful things the Winona community offers? Register for our updates.

 

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