Gym hall changed into circus arena for a Finnish athlete

– I could not be happier with my working life than what I am now. I make my living from something I have always loved to do, and I get to do it with very special friends. This has to be the best workplace in the world!
Sincere excitement and love for the profession of a circus artist radiate from Finnish gymnast Olli Torkkel, even after two years touring. Being hired to world famous circus group Cirque de Soleil made it possible for him to continue in his beloved field, however on a different career.
Champion gymnastic has stood seven times on a World Cup podium and represented Finland in European Championship games with his best sport, the rings. Now he gets to show his strength and muscle on stage.

Learning to perform

- TOTEM-show premiered in Montreal 2009. That was preceded by eight months of rehearsals with 10 hours each day. Our ring team of three guys and a woman plus a choreographer put our act together, endlessly changing and improving it and trying new things. Still, after two years, the act is versatile. If we find that something in the act would work better in another way, we change it, Torkkel says.
Torkkel sees competitive gymnastics to be physically more challenging than show gymnastics. Still, he has had a lot to learn. – I governed all the technical aspects, but I had to accustom myself totally away from the rules and mind of competitive gymnastics, let go and throw myself to the artistic side of gymnastics. I had to let go of the fear of failure.
The most challenging thing for him in particular in the beginning was the performing part of circus. Now, having got used to it, he sees it as the best part. – Audience gives me energy every time I´m on the stage, regardless whether there has been some mistakes or deficiency in the act. In competing, the mistakes would always lead to disappointment.
Torkkel adds that the showiness of both acts is based on different things. The duration of a competition performance is up to a minute, during which the athlete gives their one hundred percent, whereas the circus act runs over ten minutes. It would not be possible to perform in such a pedantic way on stage.

No dishwashing
on tour!
The touring artist spends most of his time at a hotel or at the circus tent getting ready for the show, which Cirque de Soleil performs ten per week. On the days when there is only one show, he tours around the city, reads, watches movies or goes out for coffee. – I do those things other people would do after work.
Two years on the road have not bored Torkkel. -Sometimes life feels almost too easy, since I do not have to do the dishes or make my bed!

Family of 180 members

Circus workers are often described as a family. Torkkel confirms this to be true. – I really feel like being part of a special family. Even though there are as many as 52 performers on this tour, the group became very close from the beginning. We have so much fun together, even though not everyone even shares a common language with each other.
This touring family has, including all its workers, such as a cook, teacher and a doctor, 180 members. Youngest member is one month old and oldest 61 years. The performing group has a special and unifying lifestyle. - We are both friends and coworkers. The friendships are really strong and everyday in this family feels like a celebration.

Dream come true
From Toronto TOTEM moves on to San Francisco. When the circus moves to another city, the performers usually get a week or two off. Torkkel is headed to Finland for Christmas and the show continues in London in the beginning of next year. Cirque de Soleil shows keep touring and performing as long as there is demand for them. The oldest of their shows, Saltimbanco, has been touring since 1992.
– I am very satisfied right now, and not in a hurry to do anything else. I will keep doing gymnastics in the show as long as it feels good both physically and mentally.
– Getting the change to perform in Cirque de Soleil has been a dream in the back of my head during my whole career as a gymnast, already when I was just a little boy. I consider myself very lucky that my dream has become true, Torkkel smiles.

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