Circus in Finland often gets held up as an example of how a European country with the proper resources and a supportive government can foster the development of circus arts among its people and allow a fledgling contemporary art form to thrive. We had the opportunity to speak with Communications Representative Johanna Mäkelä of the Finnish association CircusInfo about their many projects, their sister organization Cirko, (Finland’s premiere circus center), and about how circus has grown to be a cherished art form in their country.
How many circus schools and companies are there in Finland? What does it mean that CirkusInfo is their contact point?
There are currently about 20 full-time contemporary circus companies and around the same number of solo artists, duos, collectives and working groups in Finland. We estimate around 250 circus professionals working in Finland, both performing and teaching circus skills.
CircusInfo Finland serves the professional circus field with information, contacts and networking opportunities. We organize workshops and mentoring for circus professionals in order to increase their potential for success because we feel that each company offers something unique to the international market with performances that are a fruitful synthesis of the Nordic aesthetics combined with the mystery of the art form. So we collaborate with organizations and institutions to increase exposure to Finnish circus so that the artists also can benefit from it.
For example, one big event we are participating in this year is the Canvas Showcase in London from April 18–20. Canvas is a showcase and networking event for promoters and programmers organized in partnership with the Roundhouse, Jacksons Lane, National Centre for Circus Arts and artsdepot. CircusInfo Finland is partnering with the Finnish Institute in London in bringing Finnish companies to perform and pitch at the showcase. We also organized a study trip to London for young circus producers to take part in the Canvas showcase.
How did Finland come to have such a strong circus culture?
Over the years, Finnish contemporary circus has gained international recognition for its artistic quality and aesthetic appeal. To understand how we arrived here, it is important to look at our youth culture. The first youth circuses started in Finland in the 70’s and 80’s. Interest in circus as a hobby for children and young people has since then blossomed into a country-wide network of youth circus schools and clubs, most of which now offer courses for all ages.
I would also say that both the possibility to find work as a teacher, and the support for creation by governmental bodies and private foundations, has strengthened the circus culture in our country.
The first contemporary circus companies started in the 1990’s. Professional circus education also began in the 1990’s in Turku (today called Arts Academy at Turku University of Applied Sciences), and more recently in Lahti (Salpaus Salpaus Further Education). Since then, the contemporary circus field has grown dynamically and contemporary circus has gained recognition as an art form and garnered governmental support. Although, if you compare the level of public support for theater and dance to circus, it is still relatively low.
One important step in the development of the art form in Finland was the founding of Cirko – the Center for New Circus in 2002. In 2006, Cirko was divided into two sections so that the tasks of documenting, developing and promoting circus arts became the responsibility of CircusInfo Finland and Cirko continued as a production center. The opening of the Cirko venue and residency center for contemporary circus in Helsinki in 2011 was also a major step forward.
A big feature of Cirko is Cirko Festival, organized each May in Helsinki. Since 2005, it has been an important platform for introducing contemporary circus to wider audiences. Cirko Festival is the largest contemporary circus festival in the Nordic countries, but there are a few other events and festivals in Finland that program contemporary circus shows. One of the most alluring ones is the Silence Festival organized this June for the eighth time in a small village in northern Finland. The festival offers a high quality program of contemporary music and circus in an exceptional location. The festival participant experiences real encounters with art work, artists and audience members.
Another reason Finland has a good circus culture is that we now have 45 youth circuses–many of which aim to educate youngsters with good technical skills which is helpful for those who choose to seek a professional circus education at international schools. In recent years, we have seen a growing number of young companies and groups entering the professional field. Among them also are Finnish artists who chose to be educated abroad but who return home to work in the industry. Strong international networks are quite necessary for a contemporary circus company, and these networks are usually made during the circus school years whether abroad or at home. Wise Fools is a good example of this. Their members studied in ESAC in Brussels and they are based in Finland but are working internationally.
I would also say that both the possibility to find work as a teacher, and the support for creation by governmental bodies and private foundations, has strengthened the circus culture in our country. Nevertheless, it remains true that in order to maintain an active performing career, you have to look for performing opportunities outside of Finland too, and develop international co-productions.
Can you tell us something interesting about a few of the circus companies in Finland?
Sure, one company that has been working internationally quite a bit is Race Horse Company. The founding members of the company were awarded the state prize for circus arts in 2016. I’d say their style is adventurously acrobatic, combining technical brilliance with a madcap attitude. Recently, they have toured in Europe with Super Sunday and got great reviews: ‘Rare daredevil skills, rousingly comic, charmingly human.’ -The Stage, UK. Their newest creation Disco3000 was shared with New York audiences as a work-in-progress at International Contemporary Circus Exposure this past March.
There is Circo Aereo, Finland’s oldest contemporary circus company. They have made several international co-productions. Slapstick Sonata, Circo Aereo’s co-production with Czech Cirk La Putyka, returned home from its second tour in the US a few weeks ago. The company was formed by circus artists Maksim Komaro and Jani Nuutinen in 1996, and is registered in Finland and France. Circo Aereo’s artistic profile is based on a strong awareness of the traditions of circus and other art forms, in combination with fresh directions and a commitment to free-flowing creativity. Their new creation Kinema will premiere in Sweden this autumn with a large tour in the country.
Kallo Collective is a physical theatre and contemporary circus company doing physical comedy. The founding members Jenni Kallo, Thom Monckton and Sampo Kurppa all studied together at the physical theatre school of Jacques Lecoq in Paris and also have a background in circus training. The company performs internationally with bases in Finland, France and New Zealand. Recently, they have presented a series of minimalist solo productions called Only Bones. The solo by Thomas Monckton was a huge hit at the Edinburgh Fringe and London Mime Festival. The company is currently working with a new creation Chameleon that will be premiered in at the Cirko Festival in May.
What types of collaborations and research are you currently facilitating?
So many! We have a number of research projects going on. Recently, we have published some infographics on the datawe have been collecting on long term development and economical data on companies. As for collaborations, we are co-operating with Finnish cultural institutes in London, Berlin, Brussels and Stockholm. We also present Finnish circus at international performing arts markets and are planning to participate in the next PAMS(Performing Arts Market) in Seoul together with Dance Info Finland. Subcase – the showcase of Nordic Contemporary Circus– is naturally one of the major events in our region. It collects a large international audience of promoters and programmers. This year Subcase takes place during November 14th–17th in Subtopia in the outskirts of Stockholm.
We are also partners in two international circus projects ending this year, designed to support networking opportunities and to share know-how between circus professionals internationally.
We were recently co-organizers of CASA (Circus and Street Arts Circuits). Within CASA ten marketing and audience development workshops were organized in addition to five research trips for circus and street arts professionals to five areas in Europe. The project helped practitioners to access international markets and made new connections by developing their knowledge. The outcome is published this week as five inspirational guides for circus and outdoor arts for anyone who wants to find out more about the sector.
We also participated in organizing Circus Incubator – a strategy for emerging artists in 2015–2017 that promoted integrated relations and dialogue about the artistic process and promotion. The project was carried out in two series of workshops, in which professional circus performers were invited to develop their project ideas in collaboration with promoters from festivals and stages from six different countries: Sweden, Canada, Brazil, France, Spain, and Finland. The project will organize a closing seminar in October in Toulouse, France, where the outcomes will be presented. But, we already know that the workshops have been fruitful and the interaction between artists and promoters was well received.The 7 partners of the project are La Grainerie (France), CircusInfo Finland, Cirko (Finland), Subtopia (Sweden), La Central del Circ (Spain), La TOHU (Canada) and Luni Produçoes (Brazil). It was co-funded by the Erasmus+ programme of the European Union.
What advice would you give to people from other countries based on your experiences lobbying for and advocating for circus arts with your government?
The best way to convince governmental bodies to fund circus is by having a knowledge-based organization that offers reliable information. It is important to be able to articulate the mandate that you have, and to show who you are representing as well as the benefits to all. It’s also important to show how you have collected the data, for instance through a poll or a survey. When lobbying, think about how you present your message. It’s better to offer a solution rather than to complain.
Featured image courtesy of photographer Joonas Martikainen. Headhsot image courtest of photographer Jouko Salminen.
Johanna Mäkelä has worked in communications at CircusInfo Finland since 2007. She feels privileged to have had a front row seat to observe all of the exciting developments in contemporary circus during the past decade. Her previous work was in contemporary dance and urban events. She juggles with papers only.