Friday 22 April 2016

Chapter 139: Finnish Circus in London

Agit-Cirk's Sceno
Photo: Jussi Eskola

Life is full of twists and turns. Legging it up back up to London from West Sussex last week to get to Jacksons Lane, traffic was brought to a standstill on a detour through Guildford. Poor kids, I thought, this is all thanks to me and my bloody passion for circus. Where is this all leading?!  Then the kids suddenly shouted out with delight, and pointed. There on the left was a large tent with Zippos emblazoned across it. I had my answer. 

Why was it so important to me to get back to London? Because there was a reception at Jacksons Lane, in conjunction with the Finnish Institute and Circus Info Finland, celebrating Finnish circus, with excerpts from two shows I wanted to see very much. Finnish circus has been very much on my radar thanks to Jacksons Lane. I first saw the aerialist Ilona Jäntti in a piece in Highgate woods (see Chapter 52: click here), and then again in Postcards Festival last year (see Chapter 92: click here), and she still remains for me one of the most exciting performers I’ve ever seen. Since then I have come into contact with a number of other Finnish companies and solo artists - Agit-Cirk via Sakari Männisto, (also known via Gandini Juggling - click here), Circus Uusi Mailmas (see Chapter 69: click here), Hanna Moisala, Wise Fools - all producing work that intrigues me.

From left: Hanna Moisala, Sampo Kurppa,
Saku Mäkelä, Sasu Peistola and Jenni Lehtinen
I made it back just in time for the presentation by Ade Berry, Artistic Director of Jacksons Lane, welcoming Lotta Vaulo and Lotta Nevalainen from Circus Info Finland. It was fascinating to hear from them about the investment that goes into Finnish circus performers and the development of their work. The statistics were impressive. The contemporary circus scene in Finland kicked off in the early 90s with the introduction of a circus school, and since then has flourished. Finland now has over 7000 amateurs, 44 youth circus schools, 250 circus professionals, 20 professional companies and around 30-40 circus premieres every year. The centre providing this information, Circus Info Finland, was established in 2006. Promoting circus as an art it is funded by Ministry of Culture and Education as well as having EU and private funding for specific projects. The centre produces newsletters, statistics, workshops, seminars, mentoring and “long-term co-operation with journalists and writers on writing about circus arts”. We toasted with selmiak, a lethal liquorice molasses to cheers of “kippis” (with an echo of "keep pissed") then followed the presentations.

Hanna Moisala in WireDo
Photo: Mia Bergius
The first was Hanna Moisala’s WireDo twisting the art of shibari into tightwire. Shibari is a knot-tying technique that has morphed from a form of torture for prisioners into an erotic bondage art - kinbaku-bi meaning literally “the beauty of tight binding”. Now, despite having spent an evening years ago in the company of the deliciousy ribald and attractive Midori, one of the leading experts in this subject, and having a personally signed copy of her most instructive book on rope bondage, I’ve never tried it out myself. I can see the erotic beauty of Midori in a kimono, next to the milky white Dita Von Teese, trussed up like a swan (the book’s cover photo), but the only knots I’ve ever made have been on the beginners aerial course at National Circus. Which, for the record, was definitely not a sexy affair. 

Still, watching Hanna in action for even five minutes was mesmerising, sensual, and I can appreciate what exquisite bedfellows shibari and tightwire make. Both are ascetic as much as aesthetic practices requiring precision and a zen-like focus. I didn’t actually see Hanna balancing on the tightrope as such (you did in the full show), but rather saw her swishing the ropes out towards the audience in a ritual fashion before tying herself into a harness which then attached and suspended her from the tightwire. It gave a Hanna a range of motions in relation to the tightwire that created a new and innovative language, and what I loved above all was that every single movement, executed slowly and deliberately, purposefully expressed mastery of, and surrender to, the discipline. 

The full show of WireDo was part of a double-bill with Salla Hakkanpää in Zero Gravity & WHS's Pinta. I would have loved to see Pinta as well, a "visual poem" using an innovative lightscape in a duet with the solo aerialist. See (click here).

Next up was Agit Cirk’s Sceno. First there was the clowning from Sampo Kurppa, Chaplinesque in style both in suit and humour. Reworking the familiar trope of pulling a pocket handkerchief out (and out and out) with a white cord, was amusing. It was not used for binding this time, but turned out to to be the lead to plug in his acoustic ukulele, which he then went on to play with humour and deft aplomb. Next followed a scene of human juggling where Saku Mäkelä and Sasu Peistola flung Jenni Lehtinen around like a skipping rope, her face barely inches from skimming the floor. Shudder. Their mononchrome outfits, reflected  the light and dark of their routines, the joy and daring, the yin and yang. I am looking forward to catching more next time round.

As well as putting faces to familiar names, I also enjoyed hearing about completely new ones. would like to hear more of Metsä, The Forest Project by Sade Kampala and Viivi Roiha, because I like the idea of woman in nature, as first seen with Ilona Jäntti. Meanwhile the sound of Sirkus Aikamoinen's The Land of the Happy, looking at the heart of circus through a contemporary lens, hooked me through citing Federico Fellini's landmark "I Clowns" as an inspiration. 

Later that evening I saw the Finnish Race Horse Company’s show Super Sunday, which had taken the Roundhouse by storm. Ten guys recreated the thrill of the fair through acrobatics that got the adrenalin pumping as if I’d been on a rollercoaster ride myself. Catapaulting bodies through the air via a trebuchet, cellophane-wrapping themselves to the wheel of death, sending giant teddybears into the stratosphere, it was crazy, madcap, hilarious and quite brilliant. The spectacle of ten Finnish wild stallions who defy gravity and every physical limit imaginable was possibly not the most tactful of date nights to suggest to my husband with a broken leg, but whenever I sneaked a peak at him he was chuckling away. Staying on afterwards to join the party and talk circus as invited, while tempting, would have been pushing it though.  Boundaries and bonds. Whether bonds of rope or bonds of trust, sometimes acknowledging your limits, and what ties you, sets you free. 

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