Imagine spinning toward the ground with nothing to stop you from slamming your face into the floor. Well, that’s everyday life for Ilona Jäntti. If the aerialist isn’t performing on tour, she’s practicing new moves and routines, perfecting her craft, which just happens to take place way above the ground.
The Finnish circus star studied at Circus Piloterna in Stockholm before heading to London to study contemporary dance at the Laban Centre. Jäntti doesn’t believe that narratives are essential in the performance. The difficult moves themselves are the stars, and the choreography that moves the show forward is just as important, ensuring that each piece is linked together just so.
“I believe that circus can be enough as it is, without having to be ‘saved’ by theater, dramaturgy, or dance — aesthetics, concepts. It should not be forced under another art form or given a meaning through them,” Jäntti says. “Theatrical aspects can bring a lot to circus but are not always necessary. At best circus can be thrilling, exciting, moving, and delicate; the physicality and the skill can be enough.”
But that’s not to say that her shows aren’t entertaining or beautiful, because they are. She performs on an elongated trapeze, atop wires high above, and with video and animation. And throws in some narrative for good measure, like in Muualla/Elsewhere, which was produced with her childhood friend Tuula Jerker. The piece combines aerobatics with animation and took two years to make. But one could say the process started in high school. “In high school we sat next to each other in arts class and made these little booklets which you can quickly flip with your thumb and create an animation with it,” Jerker explains.
Fast forward to years later, and Jerker had the idea to create a partner for Jäntti. “I thought … that it would be really interesting to create a dancing partner for Ilona — a dancing partner that would have the same qualities as the one back in high school, being able to move unrestricted of any physical limits,” she says. “I mean Ilona can, as an aerialist, do that to some point already.”
And in the piece, that’s exactly what happens. Jerker created a video to accompany Jäntti’s choreography. The aerialist gymnastically plays with a bug-like critter, acrobatically climbs stairs, and spins on a rope in front of moving graphic patterns. The piece is seamlessly timed and is the most narrative of the trio.
To create the illusion, the team worked on the project organically at first, discussing how they wanted to bring their idea to the stage, figuring out how to merge the choreography with the animation. “Our works overlap. I usually choreograph something and film it, Tuula creates something based on the film, then we re-work it over and over again,” Jäntti says.
“And when you’re collaborating with someone, it’s a perfect opportunity to try out things you wouldn’t alone. Muualla has a narrative of some sort,” she adds. “For me, the work is mostly about constant change, but other themes can be found in it too”
Spoleto audiences will have the opportunity to see Muualla/Elsewhere as well as two other pieces. Footnotes features Jäntti’s skill on an elongated trapeze, and Gangewifre is an aerial ballet.