Thalia Gala 2023 Awards

Grounded in the present, building the future 

Finland’s theatre, dance and circus professionals have again gathered to reward excellence in their sector across 21 separate award categories. This is an industry committed to remaining grounded in the present while working tirelessly towards a better future, as evidenced by the wealth of new initiatives being set up, the sector-wide efforts to deliver equality, diversity and inclusion for all, the determination to participate in the public conversation and to respond to the wider geopolitical realities through artistic means as well as the willingness to engage with the many and serious issues facing our planet. 
Finland’s theatre, dance and circus artists have gathered on World Theatre Day for their joint Thalia Gala event to recognise outstanding contributions to the sector. All performing arts productions are always the result of collective and collaborative efforts, and this is reflected in the 21 awards that will be presented to distinguished members of the community today, on 27 March 2023. 
The array of awards on offer celebrate not just individual excellence and the quality of the work being produced but also recognise diversity and the range of professions that make up the sector. This is an industry committed to remaining grounded in the present while working tirelessly towards a better future, as evidenced by the wealth of new initiatives being set up, the sector-wide efforts to deliver equality, diversity and inclusion for all, the determination to participate in the public conversation and to respond to the wider geopolitical realities through artistic means as well as the willingness to engage with the serious issues facing our planet. 
The Theatre of the Year award was this evening presented to the Red Nose Company. The jury praised the company’s powerful and independent artistic vision that is focused on bringing diverse audiences together. The theatre do not have their own dedicated base but have toured extensively and, through the example they set, sought to break down the barriers that currently exists between the independent and institutional theatre sectors. 
Impactful creative work would not be possible without a thriving professional community committed to working together towards a shared goal. This year’s Collaboration Award went to the Helsinki-based Teatteri Tuike in recognition of their workplace culture that is characterised by its relaxed atmosphere and built on a commitment to equality and dialogue. The Positive Contribution Award that recognises exceptional efforts towards workplace wellbeing was presented to Joensuu City Theatre’s stage manager Anssi Pennanen, whose inspiring approach to his own work and his attitude towards assuming responsibility have helped to create a working environment that is safe for all. The special Outstanding Contribution Award was presented to Marja-Leena Niittymäki for her 50 years of service to Finnish theatre. The award was presented in tribute to her remarkable career throughout which she has remained committed to enhancing the wellbeing of theatre professionals across Finland. 
The Outstanding Contribution to Dance Award went to Tanja Illukka for her ambitious approach to dance and movement but also for her efforts in building a positive workplace culture. The Outstanding Contribution to the Circus Arts Award was presented to Milla Jarko and the Tiger project which has broken away from the stage to redefine what circus and performance can mean while also introducing a new sense of transparency and sensitivity to the circus arts. 
A Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to dancer, choreographer and dance pedagogue Katariina Vähäkallio, who is one of the founders of the Zodiak Centre for New Dance in Helsinki and has played an instrumental role in bringing new contemporary dance to Finland. Through her teaching, Vähäkallio has encouraged new generations of dancers to adopt a critical approach to their practice and to develop their own distinct artistic identity.   
This year’s Significant Contribution to Theatre Making Award goes to Isa Hukka and the haavoittuvia havaitsemisia (vulnerable observations) production created by her rampa associations collective. The jury noted the collective’s skill in creating space for incompleteness and in centring diversity and a care-based approach to theatremaking while foregrounding accessibility for the featured artists as well as their audiences.  
Pauliina Feodoroff was named Director of the Year for her unrivalled skill in weaving together political activism and aesthetic clarity and for her contribution to redefining what it means to be a director within theatre. Her Matriarkaatti (Matriarchy), a collaborative effort with her ensemble which premiered at the Venice Biennale, was held up as a particular example of her achievements in this regard. 
The TINFO Prize went to the creative ensemble behind Talo horjahti (When Our House Shook) a 2022 account charting the experiences of Ukrainian writers and illustrators caught up in Russia’s invasion of their country. Finnish translators and dramaturges worked together to create a script that was performed in theatres and other public spaces like libraries. Their work shows that even at the face of unimaginable horror, artists will continue to do their work.  
The Thalia Prize for Performing Arts Production of the Year was presented to Lappeenranta Theatre’s Viimeinen Atlantis (The Last Atlantis) that shows humankind realising too late the destructive consequences of its actions: climate change, biodiversity decline and excessive waste production. The Thalia Prize is awarded on the basis of a popular vote. This year it drew a total of 957 votes, with many supporters saying that they had seen it multiple times, with one adding that “it got me thinking with my brain instead of my arse”. 
A diverse range of professionals are involved in creating the aesthetic experience the performing arts bring to their audiences. The five Säde Prizes are designed to reflect this diversity. The award for Best Set Design went to Aino Koski of Oulu Theatre for her aesthetically abundant designs for Jäniksen vuosi (The Year of the Hare) that insightfully complement the dramaturgy and storytelling, offering magical clarity and a steady focus on what really matters. The Best Costume Design award was presented to Janette Laakso for her multifaceted and baroque and fantasy-infused designs for Teatteri Viirus’s Versailles. The costumes allow the production to embark on a journey from the present to the past, the jury noted, and reflect the metamorphoses the characters undergo across both time and space. The award for Best Lighting Design went to Nadja Räikkä, for Teatteri Viirus’s production of August Strinderg’s Pelikanen (The Pelican). Räikkä’s lighting succeeds in creating new space for levity within this canonical play. Outrageous and anarchic, the lighting works as a stylistic guide to interpreting the play. Best Video Design was awarded to Aku Meriläinen, credited as “the video foley” in a production by Agit-Cirk and the Makeshift Company. His video design delivers a somatic experience for viewers, the jury commented. Best Sound Design went to Michael Böger’s uncluttered and consummately skilful work on Joensuu Theatre and Joensuu Student Theatre’s joint production of Fahrenheit 451. His highly accomplished contribution draws on the sci-fi and movie sound traditions for its impact. 
This year’s Magic of Circus Prize went to circus artist and director Sanna Silvennoinen for her career spanning two decades. The jury commented that, without her immensely valuable contribution, the Finnish contemporary circus sector would not be what it is today. She was praised for her bold and unexpected approach to directing that always allows her cast to shine. 
Tuula Väänänen was presented with the Stage Actor of the Year Prize for her performance in Oulu Theatre’s En päässyt Juliaksi (I didn’t get Juliet). According to members of the Finnish Actors’ Union who presented the award, Tuula Väänänen is an inspiring theatremaker with an unstinting commitment to quality who leads by example and is always willing to share her expertise. Her colleagues describe her as “a gift to the theatre arts”. 
A bold and pioneering production and a commitment to seeing ideas through from concept to stage helped to bring innovation to the Finnish theatre sector this year. The Outstanding Contribution of the Year to Puppet Theatre award went to Metropolitan Puppets’s Nukketeatteritalo in Pakila, Helsinki. A collective effort by puppet theatre professionals, the new facility provides rehearsal and performance space for puppet theatres locally and nationally and allows audiences to associate the artform with a dedicate venue of its own. 
The Thank You for the Finnish Play award is presented in recognition of support given to the writing and performing of new Finnish plays. This year’s award went to Teatterin Uusi Alkukirjasto (TUA) which has published Finnish plays as well as new and groundbreaking non-fiction works on drama. In presenting the prize, the jury said they wished to draw attention to TUA’s integral role as part of the Finnish theatre ecosystem which it hopes will become a permanent one. 
The Theatre Award for Children and Young People went to the Valtakunnallinen Nuori Näyttämö concept, which was praised for its commitment to supporting the future of Finnish theatremaking. This multi-year project sees professional theatres opening their doors to aspiring young theatremakers, offering them a unique insight into theatre as a profession while also benefitting from the young people’s new and fresh views on the world.  

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