LifeLine: An interview with Artistic Director Ulla Hokkanen

Circus is an art form that brings people together from all walks of life, all around the world. The Lifeline highwire spectacle aims to embody that essence of circus, working with the international circus community to bring together performers from 15 countries aged 11-66 years from all walks of life with various experience on the wire. We had a quick interview with Ulla Hokkanen, Executive Creative Director for Galway Community Circus and Artistic Director for LifeLine, about the impact of this event and its importance in the international circus community.

How do you think LifeLine embodies the essence of circus?

For me the essence of circus can be captured in three words: resilience, community and magic. LifeLine gives us abundance of all of that!

Crossing a tightwire is symbolic of facing fears and overcoming challenges. This project was paused and postponed several times due to Covid-19. Our team and partners have shown remarkable resilience to hold on to our dream and have jumped through more hoops than I can even count to get to this stage. Each performer up on the wires has embodied resilience by overcoming their fears and the natural elements during the many days of training that they have put in. I am in awe of their courage, determination, and talent.

LifeLine brings together performers from 15 countries aged 11-66 years. They come from all walks of life with various experience on the wire. Some of them are seasoned professional artists, some emerging artists and some community participants who have just been introduced to wirewalking through this project. Together they create a beautiful, supportive, and diverse community in which everyone’s achievements are equally celebrated. The wire provides an equal stage for the professional artist and a community participant performing their first ever wirewalk.

Finally, LifeLine brings the circus magic by showcasing the extraordinary physical and mental capabilities of humans. It allows hundreds of people to realise their dreams and – in many cases – a lifetime ambition to learn how to walk on the highwire. It proves that we can achieve the ‘impossible’ through hard work and with the support of a community around us.

How do you think LifeLine impacts the international circus community?

The international partnership behind LifeLine started working together on this project back in 2016 through the Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture programme. We have since delivered seven Erasmus+ funded and one Creative Europe-funded partnership programme, provided 93 days of professional training for 36 new funambulism trainers and helped to set up funambulism participation programmes in eight European circus schools.

Through LifeLine, circus professionals including riggers, trainers, artists and producers are working together - learning from each other and expanding their professional networks. This will grow their employability and create work for the future.

I’m sure that LifeLine will catalyse further international partnerships and connections between organisations and individuals. It will help to establish funambulism participation as a regular programme for circus schools across Europe providing opportunities for future generations.

What benefits do you think the Irish circus sector receives from hosting an international event such as this?

LifeLine will shine a spotlight on circus locally, nationally and internationally. LifeLine is the first ever circus production to receive the Arts Council Open Call award which is a big deal for our sector. We are especially thrilled to highlight the wellbeing impact of circus participation in such a visible way through our partnership with the Galway International Arts Festival.

Through the European Funambulism Network and our international partnerships, we are working with some of Europe’s largest, most experienced circus schools and professionals on this project, bringing international expertise into the Irish sector in a large-scale outdoor arts production, circus rigging and innovative and inclusive community engagement.

Nationally, LifeLine will further increase collaborations within the Irish circus sector helping to strengthen and sustain the sector. Galway Community Circus is working with Circus Factory Cork, Cloughjordan Circus Club, Dublin Circus Project, Irish Street Arts, Circus and Spectacle Network and artists from across the country on this project so the impact will not only be felt in Galway but across the Irish circus sector.

Through the Wires Crossed and LifeLine projects, Galway Community Circus has brought funambulism participation to Ireland for people to enjoy and benefit from as participants, audiences, and artists. We continue to deliver long-term wellbeing impact through inclusive participation programmes while nurturing a growing pool of professional highwire artists and regularly working out in public space to reach people who may not otherwise engage with the arts.

About LifeLine:

LifeLine is Europe's largest highwire spectacle performed over the River Corrib and Claddagh Basin in Galway City. Staged on 7 highwires and featuring a cast of 150 people of all ages and backgrounds, audiences will witness a stunning display of strength and resilience over one of Ireland’s most iconic waterways. LifeLine is a free, drop-in event running continually over five hours from 1:30-6:30pm, with the finale performance of BassAlto at 5:30pm.