Irina Markova

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Animal Trainer

By Dominique Jando

Born in Rostov-on-Don, in Russia, Irina spent a great deal of her childhood at the Rostov Zoo, studying animals. Later, she learned to ride horses and competed in horse shows. Her growing knowledge of animals eventually paid off: at age 19, she got a job as animal keeper at the Rostov Zoo. After having successfully taught her dog a little act, she decided to become an animal trainer. Her first professional act involved a lion, a bear, an African goat, and a boar, who all performed together with dogs. She created her first all-dog act in 1985. It was an immediate sensation. Her dogs were able to perform without the direct presence of their trainer—an unusual feat that became her trademark.

An imaginative performer and trainer, Irina has since created a string of highly original dog acts—including a parody of the legendary Russian lion trainer, Irina Buzarova, in which her dogs were dressed in lion manes, and a juggling act in which her son, juggler Andrey Markov, uses dogs as partners. Later, Irina added house cats to her canine troupes.

Irina Markova has toured with various units of the Moscow Circus in Europe and South and North America. She was the recipient of several awards in the Soviet Union and won a Silver Medal at the International Circus Festival of Massy, France, in 2000—a festival that puts an emphasis on animal acts. She has since settled in the U.S., where she has been featured at the Big Apple Circus in 2002-03 and 2007-08.