It is time to talk about the circus. It’s quite possible that you think circus still lies somewhere between Barnum and Bailey and Cirque du Soleil. As far as the tradition goes, there’s much that lies between, or better yet, outside that realm of circus altogether. More specifically, it is time to talk about contemporary circus. In a cataclysmic generalization, eliminate the animals, the gold medal winning finishes, and add a storyline, rather than displaying an abstract string of events to WOW and SURPRISE. Keep the tent, the caravans, the “don’t stop ’til you get enough” attitude and behold how a young wave of talent is takes the circus arts by storm.
Touring is non-stop for artists like Stina Maria Kopra (1984, FI) and Lotta Paavilainen (1986, FI), who have succeeded brilliantly at designing their own acts. Living out of their suitcase, they call the road their home. Yet this is what these two professionals are trained for. Kopra and Paavilainen met at youth circus in Finland when they were 15 and 17 years old, respectively, and have been performing as partners since they graduated from L’Ecole Supérieure des Arts du Cirque (BE) in 2008. Their rolla-bolla and pair-acrobatic act has toured in Japan, the Phillipines, Estonia, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Belgium, Hungary, France, Spain, and the Netherlands. They have performed for as many as 50,000 people at one time and such esteemed audiences as the royal Belgian family. In a glimpse, the act consists of two-tier balancing tricks on a board measuring 2.5 x 2 feet (78 x 60cm) on a roller 2 feet long (60cm) and 9 inches (23cm) in diameter, intermixed with high heels, lingerie, humor and a poignant message about the travails of womanhood. Their union is more than a half-lifelong friendship, an artistic kismet or a death-defying work partnership, it is a lifestyle choice.
Kimmo Hietanen (1985, FI), a slackrope dancer, joins the pair in their most recent show, Play:Time. This dynamic trio celebrates the athletic and artistic aptitude of today’s circus generation. What makes this show a success is not their skills alone nor is it their keen ability to remix traditional disciplines (i.e. pair acrobatics on the rolla-bolla), rather, it is the caliber of performability, which the group effortlessly brings to the audience. The trio employs a soft touch with traditional sequences such as the prompt for applause with a roll of the hands and an unspoken “Violà!”, leaving the audience eating out of the palm of their hand. This quality avoids the building of a fourth wall, while inviting spectators to be involved in the most endearing way.
The pan was already hot when Play:Time débuted. The butter melted on contact as Paavilainen’s fledgling footsteps through a hoola hoop gave context and intrigue to a 30-minute show about growing old. Without hesitation, no sling-shot to spark curiosity– this is a street show after all, and if you wait, they walk– Kopra crept on stage reminiscent of the Pigeon Lady from Home Alone. Then, hopped up on one-wheel, comes Hietanen, the unicycle singing like a spoke card. Instantly, the scene is set with an Oil of Olay sepia scenography. The audience finds itself inside a vintage, moving postcard of nostalgia. This first section held a jump rope Pas de Trois whereby each flick of the wrist was at a cascade’s pace, an uneven racing unison, illustrating how childhood is fleeting, its passing inevitable. The delay of one partner, their sudden leap frog forward with the jump rope, foretells the consequential aging, which Kopra serves up by ending the segment with a no-nonsense response to Paavilainen and Hietanen’s “Ta-Da!” finish and roll of the hands. The first leap into adulthood has been made. As Hietanen catches up, arriving as Kopra’s sweetheart, the two promptly careen into a marital fight. Paavilainen is left on stage swinging alone, stuck in her youth on the slackrope, suspenders up, braids hanging and hair bow askew. The story tells itself. One of the major highlights was the discussion in Finnish between Kopra and Paavilainen about the countless beauty products and treatments available to counteract the inevitable decline of aesthetic youth during their rolla-bolla routine. Identifiable terms like “Face-lift”, “Anti-aging ” and “Silicon” popped like bubble gum within the fantasmal Finnish language, leaving the audience completely in stride with the subject matter.
The final age leap of Play:Time left Hietanen behind while Kopra and Paavilainen let down the drawstrings of their skirts and hobbled into old age with shapeless frocks hanging, all gums and squinty smiles. Having transcended from a pigeon-toed and doe-eyed fledgling into the most adeptly coordinated stallion, legs and feet for klicks, Hietanen’s show-ending slackrope solo tugs at the heartstrings. The audience savors the fact that he remains forever young. Again, like a postcard, the arc of the show appears in a snapshot. At this moment, it was only the slumped backsides of Kopra and Paavilainen, who, perched on the edge of the rolla-bolla board, had become almost identical, save their contrasting blonde and black hair. Suddenly, reality catches in the throat as life’s fragility is magnified. The irreversibility of time barrels forward and fuses together in this artistic frame. At this moment, the show suspends through its summit and Hietanen escorts the two aged women into darkness to close the show. As the backsides of the trio disappear off stage, the only movement left is a child’s helmet rocking in their wake. Unplanned was that wistful image yet even the coincidences of the show produce lasting and contextual devices that enhance the message.
Much like the children’s story, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, this story is simple, effective, and timeless and sure to reach international audiences. Sometimes this is all it takes to remind us how infantile our fears are, how finite our futures, inspiring gratitude for the love we have. By leaving behind their most challenging, death-defying circus skills, Kopra, Paavilainen and Hietanen have created a seamless show that doesn’t spoil the audience. No one is left feeling that “it’s not enough” in terms of how extreme entertainment needs to be to satisfy an audience. This show’s stuffed teddy-bear catapult, story-telling costume shifts, and rolla-bolla pair acrobatic elements and slackrope act came piece-meal, whetting the palette, leaving the public wanting more. Play:Time was a tree-fort. It was your first car. It was your wedding day. It was a show that could never have said as much had it not been able to relate to each individual as it captivated the human spirit with a life story which we all share.
link to Play:time trailler http://www.rola-on-bola.com/Lotta_&_Stina/Video_1.html