Meet Finland’s very first circus prof who’s uniting a mix of art forms all in one massive tent!

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Live video, virtual reality, archery: Finnish circus is going in directions you probably never imagined as a kid. And now circus art has a professor, too.

Brazilian-born Luis Sartori do Vale has earned Finland’s first artist professor grant in circus art with his freewheeling, cross-genre mix of juggling, new magic, physical theatre and video art.

He continues to conjure up creative ideas and perform them with a wide-ranging cast of friends and collaborators.

A mix of art forms

Finland’s first circus professor unites many art forms under a big tent

The company Portmanteau, cofounded by Luis Sartori do Vale, makes use of photography in more ways than one in its performance Pimiö (“Darkroom” in Finnish).Photo: André Baumecker

A hand drops a needle on a scratchy phonograph. Others place a picture frame around an upside-down, projected image of a flower pot. Hands water the flowers with a watering can, while other hands pour water from a pitcher into a darkroom developing tray.

While one man sits in a room with the plant, two others work in a darkroom, with images being composed, photographed, developed and shown before a live audience. This surreal 2023 performance, entitled Pimiö (Darkroom) is one of the latest works by do Vale’s Portmanteau company, founded in 2018.

While people with childhood memories of an old-fashioned circus under a big top might not recognise this as such, “contemporary circus is a mix of different art forms,” says do Vale. He adds, “The fact that it’s such a fluid genre is what attracts me and gives me freedom to work.”

Playful style

The world is in motion in this trailer for Pendulum, a 2020 performance by Luis Sartori do Vale and Thom Monckton.Video: Kallo Collective

Do Vale, who also illustrates children’s books, says, “By abandoning certain rules of traditional circus – which usually works with animals, focuses on technical virtuosity and performs in circular rings and tents – contemporary circus aims to create performances that open a dialogue with other arts, borrowing elements from theatre, dance, music, video, visual arts and architecture.”

His playful, cross-genre style earned him Finland’s first-ever five-year artist professorship for circus art, conferred by the state-funded Arts Promotion Centre Finland, starting in 2024. An artist professorship is accompanied by a grant lasting five or ten years.

Growing Finnish circus arts

Finland’s first circus professor unites many art forms under a big tent

Papers fly in Perto (“Near” in Portuguese), a production that Luis Sartori do Vale cocreated and directed.Photo: Portmanteau/WHS

Okay – what, then, is a circus art professorship?

“Despite the name, this title isn’t exactly related to academics,” do Vale explains. “I do sometimes teach at schools and give workshops, but my main focus is on my artistic work. Alongside my own projects, mainly with Portmanteau, I’m excited about continuing collaborations with other artists, and trying to help grow and enrich Finnish circus arts.”

International buzz

Illusions abound in this teaser for Perto (Near), which premiered in 2021, directed and cocreated by Luis Sartori do Vale.Video: Portmanteau/WHS

Finnish contemporary circus is drawing an international buzz – most of its leading troupes work more abroad than on the limited domestic circuit.

“The scene here is respected abroad and growing fast,” says do Vale. “When I arrived in Finland in 2011, there were around 20 active companies. Today there are at least twice as many, with around 400 professionals. Recently, lots of Finnish artists who were working or studying abroad are returning home, which positively affects the growth and development of the field.”

More international talents are coming to Finland, too, as do Vale did. Born in 1982, he started out juggling in Brazil in 2000, studying fine arts there before figuratively running away to join the circus world at the École Supérieure des Arts du Cirque in Brussels. He performed with top French contemporary circus groups, including shows in Finland, before moving to Helsinki to work with Dance Theatre Hurjaruuth on its popular Talvisirkus (Winter Circus) show, which has had an annual run in various iterations since 1996.

Mighty youth network

Finland’s first circus professor unites many art forms under a big tent

Lento (“Flight” in Finnish) portrays risk, control, obsession and nostalgia.Photo: Luis Sartori do Vale

“Circus is quite strong in Finland and Sweden, but it isn’t yet recognised as an artform in many European countries,” says Lotta Nevalainen of Circus & Dance Info Finland. “We have a very strong network of youth circus schools. For instance, Circus Helsinki has over 1,000 students, while the oldest companies, Circo Aereo and WHS, get state funding.”

What makes Finnish contemporary circus distinctive? “It has a strong sense of physical presence combined with high artistic skill,” says Nevalainen. “There’s also often high-quality light design, thanks to designers like Mikki Kunttu, who has done light design for Cirque de Soleil.” Finnish circus performers also often excel at aerial artistry, including aerial silks master Ilona Jäntti and groups such as Race Horse Company.

Feel the performance

Finland’s first circus professor unites many art forms under a big tent

Luis Sartori do Vale (left) and Thom Monckton look into the distance in Pendulum.Photo: Cosmin Cirstea/

Do Vale’s professorship recognises circus for the first time on the same level as other performing arts, such as theatre and dance. Why was he singled out for the honour?

“Luis has worked with two companies that are quite recognised internationally, including Company Nuua, which he started with juggler Olli Vuorinen,” says Nevalainen. “They were recognised at the European level when they were quite young. Then Luis started his own company, Portmanteau.

“He’s very curious about working with everything from new magic to object manipulation to visual arts, often combining elements of visual narration. His strengths are in dialogue between different art forms and in bringing juggling into other forms of narration.”

Besides physical theatre, acrobatics and magic, do Vale has also included archery, drawing, photography, live video, drumming, dancing and roller-skating in his performances.

“But I’m interested in exploring these technical skills as tools of expression, rather than virtuosity,” he says. “My goal is to invite the audience to interpret and feel the performance based on their own personal experiences.”

By Wif Stenger, March 2024


  1. Emily Smith says

    As an avid circus art enthusiast, I am truly amazed by the innovative approach that Luis Sartori do Vale brings to the Finnish circus scene. His eclectic mix of juggling, new magic, and video art opens up a whole new world of possibilities for the art form. It’s inspiring to see tradition blend seamlessly with modern technology under one circus tent.

  2. Isabella Mendoza says

    As a circus enthusiast, I am thrilled to see the evolution of Finnish circus art under the direction of Luis Sartori do Vale. His innovative approach to combining various art forms within the circus environment is truly inspiring. I look forward to witnessing more of his groundbreaking performances!

  3. LauraHikes76 says

    As a circus enthusiast, I’m so excited to see the boundaries of circus art being pushed by talented individuals like Luis Sartori do Vale. His innovative mix of juggling, magic, and video art is truly unique and captivating!

  4. Luisa da Silva says

    As a circus enthusiast, I am thrilled to see the innovative direction Finnish circus is taking under Luis Sartori do Vale’s leadership. His unique blend of different art forms is truly pushing the boundaries of traditional circus. Looking forward to more groundbreaking performances!

  5. EmilySmith says

    As an art enthusiast, I find it fascinating to see how circus performances are evolving to incorporate cutting-edge technology and various art forms. Luis Sartori do Vale’s work is truly refreshing and innovative, bridging the gap between traditional circus acts and modern creative expressions. I look forward to witnessing more of his captivating productions!

  6. SofiaJohnson says

    Wow, this sounds fascinating! Do you have any more details on the virtual reality aspect of the circus experience mentioned in the article?

    1. Luisa Rodrigues says

      Hi SofiaJohnson! I’m glad you find the circus experience fascinating. The virtual reality aspect that the article mentioned involves immersive digital environments that enhance the audience’s perception and interaction with the performance. It adds a whole new dimension to the traditional circus experience, blending technology with artistry seamlessly. It’s truly a unique and captivating experience for both performers and spectators alike.

  7. Luisa Silva says

    I think Finnish circus art is truly pushing boundaries and evolving in such innovative ways. Luis Sartori do Vale’s approach to combining various art forms in his performances is refreshing and captivating. It’s exciting to see the traditional circus transformed into a modern, multidisciplinary experience.

  8. Emma Smith says

    As a circus enthusiast, I am thrilled to see how Finnish circus art is evolving with the incredible mix of juggling, new magic, physical theatre, and video art brought by Luis Sartori do Vale. The innovative approach taken by Vale and his company is pushing boundaries and creating a whole new experience for audiences. I can’t wait to witness more of their creative performances!

  9. LilySmith92 says

    Did the article mention any specific upcoming performances by Luis Sartori do Vale’s company Portmanteau?

    1. RobertJohnson84 says

      Yes, the article did mention a specific upcoming performance by Luis Sartori do Vale’s company Portmanteau. They are set to showcase their surreal 2023 performance titled Pimiö (Darkroom), which promises to captivate audiences with a unique blend of photography, physical theatre, and magic. It’s definitely a show not to be missed!

  10. Emily Smith says

    Finnish circus art is truly evolving in innovative ways under the guidance of Luis Sartori do Vale. His unique blend of juggling, new magic, physical theatre, and video art is pushing boundaries and delighting audiences. It’s exciting to see how circus as an art form is expanding and incorporating other genres.

  11. LenaSmith12 says

    Do you think traditional circus enthusiasts will appreciate the innovative approach of Finland’s very first circus prof?

  12. Isabela says

    As a huge circus arts fan, I am thrilled to see the innovative direction in which Finnish circus is heading. Luis Sartori do Vale’s creative approach truly embodies the essence of modern circus, blending various art forms seamlessly. It’s exciting to witness such groundbreaking performances like Pimiö that challenge traditional notions of circus art. Kudos to him and his team for pushing the boundaries and exploring new possibilities!

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