Samovar Circles – first-hand experience by Marika Čerņavska, theatre teacher

From December 2021 to October 2022, I participated in the working group of Nordic and Baltic artists, the think tank, Samovar Circles. It was conceived as a “collective catalyst for ideas in which the circus, performing arts and cultural organizations from six countries cooperate amongst themselves in order to tackle the ‘effects and challenges sparked by the Covid-19 epidemiological crisis’ and to jointly shape models for the new ‘post-crisis horizon’”.

In order to characterize this project, I want to go through the experience with four self invented value filtres I’ve come up with. If I were to summarize the signature marks of a contemporary circus, such as I see it. I would say that, first of all, it’s physical, readily playing around with the very limit of human ability (chiefly physical ability) and eagerly putting it to the test; secondly, it’s playful, curious and investigative; thirdly, it aims to be friendly, open and available to all; lastly, it tries to be sustainable in a very broad meaning, from the environment to the artist’s body and mind.

I encountered all the mentioned signs during the think tank process: four face-to-face meeting events in Stockholm, Copenhagen, Kaunas and Riga, two face-to-face master classes in Kaunas and Riga and a series of additional things that took place in my professional life this year under the inspiration of the Samovar Circles think tank. That is why I could even say that my life became a veritable circus this year… in the best sense of the term.

Physicality and pushing boundaries

I’m abroad for the first time in eight years. I notice how insecure I’ve become, afraid even, of going into the unknown. But only the first couple of steps have been difficult; the think tank resonates with me, serving as a mover, a launching mechanism for thoughts, processes and the exchange of fresh air. Our team is meeting at a time when almost two years of Covid restrictions are behind us, with our bodies and brains literally, physically numb. It’s a huge relief that we are starting without any huge responsibilities. We’re simply going somewhere, listening, observing and sharing.

There’s a task that proves challenging to me: our meeting plan, (except in Copenhagen, perhaps, where the meeting had a smaller scale), which is always a veritable hodgepodge of festivals, conferences, pitch sessions etc. and as such, full of appointed time slots, events and places to go to, tickets to choose and purchase. At first, I felt the anxiety of a provincial, but later, I noticed I had the excitement of a hunter: to find a trail, choose it, deal with it. It is hard to imagine what practical difficulties others struggle with, but for me this is a good school, training me in independence.

Playfulness and a spirit of exploration

The fact that this is a project with almost no countable/visible results, has a liberating effect, but at the same time it’s confusing: how, is it really allowed for us to spend time so aimlessly? And the need for self-discipline is growing – I have to take care of my own feelings for what’s meaningful: how much and what I should invest in (time, ideas, listening), what, and how much I will receive back (should I attend the performances, workshops and all the rest that’s available in the project to the maximum that’s humanly possible, or, if I should pursue this in a relaxed manner)? In what ways will I use what’s obtained/seen/understood… and will I do it at all?
We live in a world of high standards for productivity, so not setting productivity goals is a luxury. Such as partaking in the non-workshop, which takes the form of a walk and ends with a meal we prepare together (the workshop in Kaunas, led by Agnietė Lisičkinaitė), or to have conversations where it is not clear from the beginning what benefit we could get from them. It also seems fresh and interesting to me to study, I would say even to “crochet around” the main issues of discussion (support for young people, future cooperation, etc.) in different ways: through a game, a protest action, a walk in nature, dancing, being silent and looking into another’s eyes, through a conversation in pairs, in groups, all together, returning to the question from very different angles (Merel Heering’s master class in Riga). On many occasions I wonder as to how this model could become truly open for the diverse spectrum of artists – to those who don’t speak English that well (or are deaf and hard of hearing), to those who aren’t as used to navigating online maps, transport tables, big cities and such instances of international collaboration.

Friendliness, openness, accessibility

I think that at least 10 times, if not more in this project, everyone has to briefly state who they are and where they’re from. My narrative is changing. First of all, it becomes more considered. The other tasks, too, like discovering where you’re situated in terms of income, age, and education, make you speak frankly and give a clearer picture of the spectrum which we represent as a group.
In Copenhagen, I choose accommodation in a place called City Hub. It’s a capsule that is only suitable for sleeping at night. However, the shared spaces (including the kitchen and showers) are spacious, cosy and invite one to leave one’s nest to spend time with others. To me, this symbolizes a way of sharing a space, or, perhaps, even the whole world. If private luxuries were scaled down, there would be more resources for the common good. I feel that there is an inspiring energy in this model that should be applied much more widely and more radically.
An observation I’ve made over the past few months is that when we say that a contemporary circus integrates people, that it’s accessible to everyone, we’re exaggerating quite a bit. At the same time, one cannot miss the fact that it wants to be friendly, accommodating and accessible. Even though equal opportunities are a long way away, I cannot help but notice the desire for humaneness and accessibility, like I had witnessed in this year’s Homo Novus festival that reminded me something that I’ve experienced, perhaps, only in Germany or France at festivals of inclusive art: a party that truly welcomes everyone.


Sustainability is a term we use a lot. As long as we’re a relatively sparsely-populated country where there’s water to drink along with room for cattle, vegetables and waste, it’s a challenge to become intimately acquainted with the planet’s ecological context or to truly shake up one’s habits. Small steps taken each day are a good answer. And the think tank does offer the option of taking such small and sustainable steps. I noticed them – thanks!

I often see shows where an essential part of the message is about how hard it is to be an acrobat. It’s physically challenging – it hurts, it makes you sweat and breathe heavily. It becomes progressively more difficult to stay in this profession as you age. And as you bring up children.

This is also part of the topic of sustainability. I’m 46, as I get older, it’s not easy to stay in good physical condition, and it’s even more difficult to concentrate on intense creative work, to switch from work to home and vice versa, or to switch between assignments. I feel that several artists are interested in these matters and I, too, feel like delving deeper into this topic – on my own at first, and, perhaps, eventually coming to offer support to other artists facing their physical and psychological vulnerability as the years go by.
As the think tank was first announced, it was described as potentially being a place where “inspiration can flow and new models of tomorrow can emerge”. And there is inspiration, spurred on by the Samovar Circles, both in me and, I believe, in others from our group as well. It is probably out of place to talk about what could happen tomorrow. Still, I find it very useful to remind oneself about one’s values, perhaps even reach an agreement about them, and keep them where they’re easily seen, “on the control panel”. Just as I find it worthwhile to renew one’s standards for meaningful communication, collaboration, art processes and leadership. I renewed mine by meeting artists I’d like to work with, leaders I’d like to take after, and an art environment I’d like to shape and sustain myself. This means that, at the end, I do have the models for tomorrow in my pocket, in the form of examples that encourage one to grow, change, and keep on moving long after the initial trigger has drawn to a halt.