n a recent spring day in the small town of hollola, Finland, circus student Ilona Alameri dangled upside-down from the ceiling. Flailing and pulling at the two straps supporting her, she spun her body into a frenzied spectacle of struggle. Looking up at her plight, her classmates formed a circle around her and began to pass her body around like a tetherball. "Asking for help has always been so damn hard for you," one of them said, delivering a line. "We're exploring traumas here, and the ways in which people cope with them," second-year circus student Onni Hämäläinen said during rehearsal to explain the salpaus Further education student production, entitled Resilience, which would be performed at helsinki's Cirko contemporary circus festival two weeks later. Modern circus, one of Finland's hottest art forms that features interpretations of acrobatics and juggling rather than focusing on exotic animals or clowns, strikes a fine balance between theatre and modern dance. The talent of the artists is a means to tell stories and convey larger messages, not simply a way to wow audiences. In performances, the boundaries between conveyed and real exertion blur, and relatable truths are revealed through athletic achievements. This raw physicality has come to define Finnish circus. The country's performers are becoming known for their ability to dance the line between character and athlete, and the much-publicised new circus centre in helsinki is, appropriately, constructed into a former industrial warehouse. "Foreign producers say that Finnish circus lacks all pretention and gaudiness," says Lotta Vaulo of the Finnish Circus Information Centre, an organisation that tallies and publishes circus statistics. "Circus here is known as direct, honest and unpolished, and sometimes jarring." weLcoMe to ciRko Finnish circus is, without question, having its moment. New ensembles are entering the scene yearly, and audiences are flocking to performances ModeRn ciRcUs stRikes A fine BALAnce Between theAtRe And ModeRn dAnce. in 2010, nearly 83,000 people in Finland and 65,000 abroad saw the works of Finnish modern circus groups, up from about 50,000 and 52,400, respectively, in 2009. Flagship group Circo Aereo and its offshoot, the internationally praised Race horse Company, spend a majority of their time touring the world; Circo Aereo, a modern circus pioneer that was featured on the cover of this magazine in 2008, performed abroad 83 times last year. This May saw the much-publicised opening of a centre for new circus in helsinki's formerly industrial suvilahti neighbourhood, which is now being turned into an arts hub. "Fifteen years ago we didn't even know the concept of `new circus,' and Circo Aereo was an oddity as a company, doing something very marginal and drawing from French circus," Vaulo says. "The growth of modern circus in terms of popularity over the past five years alone has been mind-blowing." This spring and summer, this upsurge has accelerated further. The opening of Cirko Center coincided with helsinki's sixth annual Cirko Festival, an event that featured performances by top Finnish and international groups, student works and a Mother's Day brunch-and-play event for families. built into a century-old warehouse space that stands amidst the skeletal remains of suvilahti's retired power plant, Cirko Center provides a fitting backdrop for Finland's spiritedly rugged subgenre of modern circus. Circo Aereo is the centre's resident company, the Finnish Circus Information Centre has its offices upstairs, and an attached restaurant is designed to attract both pre-performance crowds and artists in the area suvilahti is home to artist residences and a graffiti gallery, and will house other cultural centres in the future. The city of Turku, the 2011 european Capital of Culture, will also put circus on prominent display this summer. Cirque Dracula, a circus spectacle interpreting the story of the world's most famous vampire, will premiere in June, and the first annual Future Circus Festival in August will feature international student collaborations, acrobatics over Turku's Aura River and a seminar that will bring leaders of the european Federation of Professional Circus schools around the sUMMeR 2011 BLUe wings 23 eng
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