Tallinn's own Cirque du Soleil

  • 2007-02-28
  • By Joel Alas

NO CLOWNS HERE: The concept of circus is re-invented in "Sleepwalkers," a visually stunning performance by the talented children of Tallinn's OMA Tsirkus.

TALLINN - "Sleepwalkers" is a sensory feast, a dreamy display of color, costume and lush music. It's almost possible to forget that this show is, at its core, a circus performance. This is the first major performance by the children of OMA Tsirkus, one of Tallinn's two circus training schools. But forget the word "circus," and forget that it is performed by children. Neither of these factors matter when watching "Sleepwalkers", a show so professional and so captivating it deserves international attention.

Whereas one might expect clowns, cheesy music and dancing animals, the OMA Tsirkus vision of circus is much more artistic. Forget all your preconceptions 's this is a whole new genre of performance.
The show's creator is Kaja Kann, a respected Tallinn choreographer who brings her dance and theatre background to the world of circus. She has considered calling this performance "artistic movement" or "performance art" in an attempt to disassociate it from the common misconceptions of what circus is.

"People who watch this will understand that circus is not always banal, with clowns and bears. I can explain it with words, but people don't understand it until they see it. It can be something completely different, it's just performance art," Kann says.
The show features a troupe of ten children aged between five and 15 who perform a sequence of acrobatic tricks. Their skill level is highly impressive, given their age and their limited access to coaching facilities.
The audience is ushered into a dreamy state by the otherworldly soundtrack which features the saturated music of Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson. It sways from minimalistic piano to glorious string sections, and seemingly distils the essence of dreams and nightmares.

The costumes are equally as rich. Designed by professional theater costume artist Liina Tepand, they are old worldly and pixie-like, as if plucked from "Gulliver's Travels."
The show begins with the cast of children descending through the audience, carefully climbing down the seatbacks and armrests of the auditorium, to everyone's surprise. Then begins a fascinating package of tricks 's juggling, acrobatics, rope walking and trapeze 's- that are taken out of their original context and rethought. None of the tricks are performed in their traditional sense.
Just as strangely, the audience feels uncomfortable about clapping during the spectacle. In normal circus, the performers present their poses to the crowd to seek applause. Kann says she deliberately instructed the children not to seek applause throughout the show, but to wait until the end. It is an effective choice, for it allows the show to flow without breaking the dreamy atmosphere. "Sometimes I felt like clapping, but I didn't dare because nobody else did," said one audience member.

There is visual stimulation -'s in one scene, the children spin silver hoops illuminated in an icy blue light, a mesmerizing spectacle. And there is audible stimulation -'s at one point the lights drop to black, and from the darkened stage echoes the sound of syncopated foot thumps. When the light suddenly returns, we see a dozen children skipping across ropes in a rhythmic pattern. It is surprising, simple and so effective.
And then there are show-stopper moments, such as Kadi Metsoja's frightening performance on the corde lisse, or rope.
Kann says she has never produced circus before, which is probably why she does it so well.
"I don't know how to do a circus. We work with our children in a theatrical way. Everything we do is like a play or a dance," she says.

She hopes to convince government and arts groups to help sponsor her new vision of circus by supporting the genre financially. Kann says "Sleepwalkers" is likely to tour to the UK and the rest of the Baltics, if funding can be found.
"Sleepwalkers" premiered in November to rave reviews and packed crowds. It will return to the theatre of Kanuti Gildi Saal in Tallinn's Old Town for a repeat three-show season.

March 7,8 and 9, 7:30 p.m.
Kanuti Gildi Saal, Pikk 20, Tallinn
Tickets: 50 to 90 kroons (3 - 6 euros)
Info: www.saal.ee