Circus North Festival broadens the public image of Finnish Circus

Photographer and circus organizer Andrew Miller will bring Finnish Circus to Toronto's Distillery district on May 22nd-23rd. The profits gained by Circus North Festival's Focus on Finland will be given to the Finnish Studies program in Toronto.

The two-day event will feature circus acts on the first day. The Duo D'Lyh, consisting of emerging professional artists Kaito Takayama and Sanni Sarlin-Takayama, will be the most child-friendly show, offering acrobatics, juggling and tricks with hulahoops.

After that, Dr. Giuseppe Gioacchino Condello; a Canadian Master of Mime, will give a lecture and demonstration for 30 minutes on his craft, with audience participation.
The final show of the first day, Ilona Jäntti's 25-minute show is more artistic, featuring expression via body movement, aerial acrobatics and dance.

On the second day of the Focus on Finland event, there will be panel discussions and a chance for international circus workers to connect.

Is Finland a centre for circus?

The world of international circus is wide and consists of more than just physical acts.
"Recently there has been a transition of contemporary circus arts. Now they do circus for the sake of art", Miller says.

The general public also doesn't quite realize how many different styles and ways of doing circus there are in the world.
"From the North American perspective, the stereotype is that there’s only three type of international circuses: Russian, Chinese and Quebec, and nothing else. But there are distinctive aesthetics from different cultures, more than what is commonly known", says Miller.

According to him, Finnish circus is unlike others because of its quirky, whimsical nature, which contrasts with the skill and patience of the performance.
"I saw Finnish circus in Stockholm a couple of years ago and it made a big impact on me", Miller tells.
"Then I met Ilona in 2014 in Chicago, and we conversed. It turned out she wanted to come to Canada to perform, so I started to hatch an idea to showcase Finnish circus here."

When the Finnish Embassy in Ottawa promised to fund the event, all started falling into place. Also the Canadian Chamber of Commons, Kone Corporation and Canadian Friends of Finland had promised to sponsor the show. Miller then booked Duo D'Lyh. The programming proved to have some challenges.

"My idea was to have the playful and family-friendly events first. Ilona is more of a contemporary artist, her show won’t engage kids as much so it's later on a more adult-friendly time slot", says Miller.

"As for the panels, I believe it would be a waste if knowledgeable professionals come together, and there’s no discussion."
"It’s not just performing. Circus is community-based", says Miller.

Unease over the financial risk

Miller's big event is a risky venture.
"I'm paying much of this from my own pocket and still looking for sponsors. After the artists, venue and marketing are paid, otherwise all profits go to charity. But we still can't donate anything unless we sell out the event", Miller says.

He still believes the risk is worth taking.

"I'm doing this for cultural export. This event says to the public that they should start paying attention! Circus can change lives, and its contributions go to the Finnish Studies program, which is a very important part of the culture of the Finnish people living here", says Miller.

Text and picture: Paavo Ihalainen

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