WorldView: A Language Blog

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An Aerialist in Portugal: An Interview with Solveig Bjermeland

Published: September 22, 2021

The WorldView Blog team recently interviewed Solveig Bjermeland about her pathway from the Villages to her current adventures as an aerialist in northern Portugual. Solveig, a former counselor and villager at Skogfjorden Norwegian Language Village, is completing her second year of studies with a specialty in aerial rope and silks at Salto International Circus School.

Tell us about your involvement with the Language Villages.

Solveig receives her 10-year villager award
from Norwegian Language Village dean
Tove I. Dahl.

I worked at Skogfjorden for two years, and was a ten-year villager before that. My mom also used to work at Skogfjorden, so the Language Villages have been a part of my life since she was pregnant with me, and there are still counselors around today who remember me as a baby. When I was little, I was in Concordia Language Villages’ pre-K Norwegian program at Barnehage, and then later in Norge Rundt, a Saturday program for elementary-aged participants learning Norwegian.

How did you end up studying circus arts in Portugal?

 I started taking circus classes at Circus Juventas in St. Paul when I was three years old and kept going with it after school and on the weekends. At my public high school, St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists, I studied theatre and dance (and the usual academic subjects as well), but was interested in exploring circus as a career. Portugal was attractive because it’s relatively affordable, and it’s a language, culture and country I knew nothing about and thought would be really neat to explore.

Solveig on aerial rope at Salto
International Circus School.

My focus is aerial rope, which is a rope that hangs from the ceiling. I climb and do different tricks on it. Aerial silks is my second specialty, but I also unicycle, take acrobatics and trampoline, and juggle a little bit. We do ballet, theatre and contemporary dance, too, and have strength conditioning. This year, I’ll have a final solo act to create on my own. Through friends, I’ve also had a chance to try programs in other places: Escuela de Circo Carampa in Madrid and Cirque Jules Verne in Amiens, France.  

 

What has it been like to live in an international circus artist environment during COVID?

Solveig and a friend from Canada observing
a traditional last-day spaghetti fight.

I was quarantined in a house of international circus people, so it actually turned out to be fun in what was otherwise a really difficult year. We trained together, worked together, ate together and just spent a lot of time together. It was kind of like being in a cabin at camp. The people in my house are mainly German speakers, so I was hearing a lot more German than Portuguese for a while.

There are so many other students and teachers from other cultures – Spain, Israel, Austria, Germany, Sweden, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Russia – I get to hear many different languages all around me as well as participate in some of the different traditions they bring with them. Last year we celebrated Hanukkah with housemates from Israel and Midsommar with the Swedes. We made Austrian cookies for Christmas. We enjoy Portuguese foods like francesinha (a rich meat and cheese sandwich) and pastel de nata (a custard tart).

We have also done “Traffic Lights” in nearby Porto. Busking is something students here do to develop their performance skills and earn a bit of money on the side. I brought my unicycle, and my friends brought juggling equipment and handstands, and we performed tricks for cars waiting at the lights. It’s tiring, but we made about 40 Euro in an hour and a half!

You’ve also been teaching circus skills. What is that like?  

 In high school, I went to Germany for an exchange between Circus Juventas and CircArtive, where I got to teach German kids how to unicycle. We didn’t have a common language. That’s where miming came in handy, and Total Physical Response strategies that involve responding to verbal commands with physical action, which I learned at Skogfjorden.

Teaching aerial arts (in Portuguese!)
at Imaginarius street performance
and circus festival.

In Portugal, I just finished teaching circus skills to children at Imaginarius, a street performance and circus festival. Surprisingly, I was able to do most of it in Portuguese. Kids are great because they work with you to figure it out, and that’s what’s important – the understanding.

At Circus Juventas and now at Salto, I’ve had coaches from all over the world – Mongolia, Russia, Brazil, Poland, China, Morocco, etc. - with varying abilities in English, and they set a good example for me. Students get used to their speech patterns and figure out what they mean. Being a counselor at Skogfjorden and a student coach through the work-study program at Circus Juventas were great preparatory experiences.

Advice for others considering doing something similar?

Just do it. Worry about the challenges later – just commit.

About the Author

A 2020 graduate of St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists, Solveig Bjermeland is currently completing a specialization in aerial rope and silks at Salto International Circus School in Maia, Portugal. Originally from Chicago, Solveig grew up in Minneapolis and spent many adventure-filled summers at the Norwegian Language Village in northern Minnesota. She hopes to keep up her languages and continue strengthening her technical and artistic skills as an aerialist and plans to pursue an international career as a circus artist. Follow her on Instagram.

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