'Limits', featuring Anton Graaf, Einar Kling-Odencrants and Samuel Andersson. Cirkus Cirkör is one of Scandinavia's leading performing circus companies, having toured the world with a number of successful shows. In August it will be perfoming ’Limits’ at London’s Southbank Centre as part of Nordic Matters. Photograph (C) Mats Bäcker

"When we perform anywhere we know that anything is possible. Boundaries are meant to be crossed in the circus, limits are supposed to be challenged and exceeded, change is bound to happen."

Tilde Björfors, Artistic Director and Founder, Cirkus Cirkör.

Cirkus Cirkör: everything is possible

The Swedish circus company, Cirkus Cirkör, is one of Scandinavia's leading performing circus companies. The company has toured the world with a number of successful shows. In August it will be perfoming Limits at London’s Southbank Centre as part of Nordic Matters. We caught up with Cirkus Cirkör’s Artistic Director and Founder, Tilde Björfors and resident composer Samuel ”LoopTok” Andersson. Here are two personal points of view:

"We’re really excited to show Limits to a British audience," says Cirkus Cirkör’s Artistic Director and Founder, Tilde Björfors. "Limits premiered in 2015, and has been touring the world for about two years, we’re already quite well prepared. We have shown our work to the British-based audiences before, having performed in London with Inside Out at the Peacock Theatre, at the Wales Millennium Center in Cardiff and in Manchester at The Lyric Theatre. The Cirkus Cirkör performance Undermän, directed by Olle Strandberg, was performed at the Roundhouse in London. So, to an extent, we know what to expect from a British-based audience!

"When we perform anywhere we know that anything is possible. Boundaries are meant to be crossed in the circus, limits are supposed to be challenged and exceeded, change is bound to happen. We want to show Londoners that human beings can do so much more than commonly believed and urge them to imagine what the world might be like if no one had ever taken a risk? In fact, the very diversity of London and the UK reflects the motto of Cirkus Cirkör: everything is possible. We were founded in 1995 and years’ worth of experience has shown that there is room for people of all backgrounds and ages at the circus. I can safely say that anyone of any age can train to be a performer, whether they come from kindergardens or homes for the elderly. When I was a small child, I thought that human beings moved around the earth to keep the globe in balance. Now that I am older I know that when we close borders and build fences, the earth can lose its equilibrium and stop spinning. 

So many good memoires have come from working with Cirkus Cirkör. In 1998 we did Supercirkör which was directed by Jonas Åkerlund. At the time he was still quite unknown. But the night before the premiere his music video for Madonna’s Ray of Light premiered on MTV. He quickly became one of the world’s hottest music video directors. That certainly shone a spotlight on our performance too. Most memories are created by the audience’s reaction. Before our first performance in America our artists had visited neighborhood schools in New York and talked about their experiences. When the students then came to BAM to watch the show Inside Out they were visibly and audibly engaged. They stood on their seats, screaming and shouting in support of the performers, almost as it we were competing in the Olympics. When we were in Taiwan, however, the audience was silent throughout the whole show. But after the last scene, the auditorium went absolutely crazy, with people cheering, shouting and then lining up for autographs. 

I’ve always been clear that circus is about risks. The risk of falling off a trapeze and crashing to the ground is ever present. Of course, the artists train for many hours to ensure that the risks of physical injury are minimised. Yet learning that things can and will go wrong, change and readjust is as important for a having a good innings in life as in performance.


Turning to resident composer Samuel ”LoopTok” Andersson, he says that he usually listens to a lot of different kinds of music to feel motivated.

"As a composer, it’s important to engage with various styles of music and know what there is out there. While music from all over the world feeds into my pieces, all sorts of genres from artists working in the United Kingdom also provide ideas: I’m as much a fan of Coldplay and Radiohead as I am traditional English folk songs. If you listen to my compositions you can probably detect both inspirations. 

"Composing music for Cirkus Cirkör is a thrilling, creative and fairly immediate experience that always feels free and experimental. I’m allowed to be quite unrestrained in what I create, and openly invent innovative ways to use music to express important themes. During a performance, the chosen music can sometimes meander and become a supporting facet. This is important, however, for it means that the sound or song is there to enhance feelings, identify scenes and suits the circus act in question. Creating a memorable experience depends on working extremely closely with the director and artists.

"Some might say that my music is rather odd: there are so many different ingredients to each piece that mix together, tickle many senses, and provide a musical experience that might leave the audience feeling a bit unnerved. My creative process starts with the collection of all kinds of sounds that might and might not eventually find their way into the final piece of music. My objective is that any abnormality in the finished composition will leave a London audience as stimulated as I was when I first developed the composition back in Sweden. Musical styles but also noises should entice listeners to cross boundaries and step outside their comfort zones. 

"For Limits I recorded ideas and sounds that I associated with borders. For instance, borders between land and water, countries and nations, life and death. I started to collect drift wood and other items that had been washed onto the coastline, as well as items and material that refugees have in their luggage when they flee from their homelands. Subsequently, sounds were then recorded under water in attempt to represent those who doesn’t make it. In addition sounds were also recorded from Öresundsbron, the bridge that connects Sweden with Denmark and Europe. A nice surprise was that the huge concrete pillars turned out to be fantastic resonating chambers. A sorry surprise was that when I recorded the sounds I had no idea that only a year later the Swedish government would close this same bridge to prevent refugees from arriving in Sweden."

What is Nordic Matters?

Over the course of 2017, London’s Southbank Centre will be inviting audiences to look more closely at what’s happening in Nordic art and culture. The programme for Nordic Matters will embed Nordic culture and artists in London and other parts of the UK and provide a platform to some of the ‘hidden voices’ from Åland, the Faroe Islands and Greenland, as well as Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. This is the first time that Southbank Centre has programmed a year-long festival dedicated to one region of the world. It is expected that around a third of artists, authors and performers participating in events at Southbank Centre during 2017 will come from the Nordic region.

More about Nordic Matters

As part of the festival, particular emphasis will be placed on three main themes influenced by Nordic identity and society: play fostering curiosity and creativity, for people of all ages but especially children and young people; sustainability; and gender equality. Audiences will be able to experience and explore this cultural connection through an extensive programme of music, dance, theatre, literature, spoken word, design, visual art, talks & debates, fashion and food.

The programme is curated and presented by Southbank Centre, which has been supported by the Nordic Council of Ministers, the Nordic embassies in London and the national arts agencies in Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Åland.

Following the official launch of Nordic Matters in January 2017, the British Council will be focusing on an evolving selection of artists participating in Nordic Matters through its dedicated websites and Facebook channels for Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark.

Jude Kelly CBE, artistic director of the Southbank Centre , said: “It is a great honour for the UK and Southbank Centre to have been chosen to host Nordic Matters in 2017. The Nordic countries have long been at the forefront of social change, from championing young people’s rights to environmental concerns and gender equality, and their enlightened approach to culture and education chimes with Southbank Centre’s own belief in the power of the arts to transform lives. We are delighted that this year-long partnership will enable us to present a truly authentic cultural exchange showcasing the richness and diversity of the Nordic countries, including the lesser known Greenland, Åland and the Faroe Islands. In an ever-changing world, it is even more crucial that we celebrate the ways in which culture can bring us together, rather than driving us apart. Let the collaborations commence.” 

The Nordic Council of Ministers said, “Nordic Council of Ministers is proud to collaborate with Southbank Centre on the Nordic Matters initiative. It is an excellent way to facilitate and showcase Nordic art and culture abroad - especially in the context of gender equality, sustainability, and children and youth. Cultural exchange between participating Nordic artists and British artists and audiences is a central and important feature of Nordic Matters. With a venture of this nature and size we can put our shared Nordic values and culture under the microscope and hope to be able to both inspire and be inspired beyond the borders of the Nordic Region. We might even learn something about ourselves and the links between the Nordic countries.”


Below you can discover a selection of acts from Sweden who will be featured as part of the Nordic Matters festival.

Discussions and debates taking place include a look at Sweden as the first country in the world to pursue a feminist foreign policy. Photo: Belinda Lawley, 2015
Discussions and debates taking place include a look at Sweden as the first country in the world to pursue a feminist foreign policy. Photo: Belinda Lawley, 2015
José González by Malin Johansson
José González by Malin Johansson


24 Jan – MUSIC 

Hear Swedish singer-songwriter José González perform with maverick orchestra The String Theory. Their first collective tour in 2011 sold out all over the continent and received rave reviews.



18th Feb – ACTIVITY

Bring dancing shoes and get ready for Swedish Baby Rave. Just like a grown-up's rave, except they play club music at a lower volume and it’s held during the day time, with good accessibility and pram parking. It’s the perfect time for kids and adults alike to have fun at a party that’s not just balloons and baby tunes. 



3 March – MUSIC 

Get moving to blues and soul with a contemporary twist with Asya Satti. Born in Stockholm to Sudanese parents, Asya's influences range from Umm Kulthum to Aretha Franklin. Her style takes these inspirations in, adding a modern touch courtesy of her African and Middle Eastern upbringing. Alternating between languages, Asya's soaring vocals give an almost hypnotic feel to her rhythmic tunes that express themes about women who are strong and confident, yet vulnerable and honest.




Sweden is the first country in the world to pursue a feminist foreign policy. But what does it mean, what are its objectives and why are foreign policy traditionalists so scared of it?


Sweden in the UK: Inspiring the work of Emilia Mårtensson

Singer and Songwriter Emilia Mårtensson is Swedish and based in Finsbury Park, London. In January this year her musical performance opened the ‘Nordic Matters’ festival at the Southbank Centre. Emilia has built a steady reputation as one of the most exciting young vocalists on the UK Jazz scene and in 2016 was awarded ‘Vocalist of the Year’ at The Parliamentary Jazz Awards. Her voice has been praised by the likes of the Guardian, Jazzwise, Jazz UK and Time Out. 

Mårtensson’s expressive voice and highly personal compositions are firmly rooted within the folklore and countryside of her native southern Sweden, adding to the mystique and allure of a distinctive and truly original artist. She has performed extensively between the UK and Sweden. Her most recent album ‘Ana’, is dedicated to her grandparents and named after Emilia’s Slovenian grandmother Ana-Emilia.

Emilia Mårtensson on being inspired by Britain

"Much of my work is inspired by The Magic Lantern, also known as the singer Jamie Doe, who was born in Australia but emigrated to Britain aged 12. I met Jamie through other musician friends whilst studying at Trinity College of Music in London. I was drawn to Jamie’s songs from the first time I heard him play, and I have been following his career for the last 15 years. I’ve also had the privilege to sing on his albums and eventually make my own interpretations of his songs. One of them was ‘Harvest Moon’ which I included on my last album ‘Ana’. I also included his song 'Winter' on my most recent album with my Elda Trio. 

Jamie’s songs make me want to sing. His unique way of expressing himself really speaks to me, both musically and lyrically. With music so beautiful and direct, his melodies go straight to my heart. What is so clear is that Jamie writes because he has to. I really love the opening of his song, ‘Air at the Top’, which goes:

We’re running ourselves in to the ground, but getting nowhere fast, we’re only here for another few years, before we disappear….

I’m thrilled that Jamie has a new album coming out soon. I encourage all readers to go and listen! 


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