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Working at the frontiers of the circus world

Eyrún Ævarsdóttir

Writing from DYNAMO, Denmak

When people ask me why I decided to move back to Iceland and work there as a circus artist, the answer is not always clear. It’s complicated - but also really simple.


On my arrival in the contemporary circus world at the age of 20, when starting circus school at Codarts in Rotterdam, I became completely mind-blown by what was possible, and what was already there! The schools, the workspaces, the shows, the festivals - together forming a chain that provided a fertile ground for the inventive creativity and mind-bending wonder of the circus world to grow out of. 


Of course, the contemporary circus field as a whole is still very much at its developing stages, most areas have need for further development at some levels, but for me, coming from a place of no circus at all, my personal discovery of the contemporary circus world has been completely life-altering. I became hooked, I fell in love - yet it all left me a bit confused. How did I fit in this world? Thinking of the incredible chance and series of coincidence that led me on this path, what if I would have never found this route? Could I make a difference in this whole scenario, letting others in on the secret of this amazing piece of culture?


I could have decided to stay put in Rotterdam, enjoying the existing infrastructure, training spaces, festivals, attend shows and get inspired by fellow circus artists and academics. But throughout my education I felt a strong pull back to Iceland - big amongst them was the tight group of circus people (and some of my closest friends) already working to develop circus activity in Iceland, as well as the potential and exciting thought of exploring an unknown territory - how can circus develop in a place like Iceland?


The feeling of bringing something new and exciting, opening somebody’s eyes and stepping out of the frame of what they expect, what is allowed, what is possible. I would argue that this essence of circus is a concept that can be very valuable to any society, not least a society like Iceland - perched on a weather-beaten island far away from the world, yet full of ideas and hopes of freedom.


Feeling like you can have a positive impact is a powerful feeling, and I became increasingly interested in how I could make the contemporary circus world become a reality in Iceland, leading me to move back after my graduation and do my best to contribute to growth in this part of the circus sector.


To put this story in perspective - the history of circus in Iceland is short; until recently local circus activity was non-existent. The history of theatre in general is short for many different reasons.  This means that there are many obstacles on the path of a circus maker wishing to work in Iceland; limited work spaces, financial and production support or understanding of specific needs for circus activity and creation, but on the other hand you will find curiosity and a level of openness to new ideas.

It can be easy to focus on and be lost in the struggles. But as Rune, one of the artistic directors at DYNAMO, said: flip the struggle on its head and use it to your advantage.


There is no circus field? That means you’re the first ones and get to define the field!

Feel far away from everything? You’re in Iceland, one of the hottest travel destinations in the world, bring people to you!

People don’t know what circus is? You get to show them - just make sure to blow them away!

When writing my graduation thesis from Codarts, I decided to research how best to develop the circus field in Iceland. My conclusions led to a list of factors that seem important, if not essential, in the process of developing a healthy and sustainable cultural scene. They were the following:

Access to the genre, increased interest, skill and number of participants through workshops, youth clubs and schools. 

These points have dug themselves into my brain as a kind of blueprint of what needs to happen and have consciously and subconsciously been the leading focus of my efforts since then. 

DYNAMO grows out of similar conditions as described here - Gry Lambertsen and Rune Vadstrøm Andersen, the founders and artistic leaders of DYNAMO, are two circus artists who found themselves in a cultural field in need of better working conditions for professionals - as well as striving to present itself as an interesting and important cultural field to the public and authorities of the area.

They shifted their focus towards providing the conditions that they felt were needed. In only four years Dynamo has become an important player in the Nordic circus field, bringing international artists and shows to Denmark to create and perform; providing workspace for the artists and adding to a vibrant cultural scene for the locals.

I’ve come to understand, when finding your role within the field it’s important to consider your position and how you relate to the existing surroundings. Where do you fit in the chain? What are your strengths and limitations? What can you do that nobody else can?

Gry and Rune’s story, as well as their generous willingness to share their experience, is inspiring and important when finding the reasons, the courage, and the methods of contributing to the development of the circus sector.

The position of a circus artist that decides to be based in Iceland (or any area that still needs development) can be viewed as limiting - or it can be viewed as an opportunity for growth.

Limitation vs. growth
Vulnerable vs. bold
Fragile vs. tough
Isolation vs. inspiration
Confusion vs. courage 

I guess it comes down to what we decide to focus on.

Photos: Cosmin Cirstea, courtesy of DYNAMO

Published on: 24. March 2021

NHLP has been made possible with the support of Nordisk Kulturfond and Nordic culture Point, Nordic Council of Ministers, and Lund Municipality


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