Circus Abyssina: Ethiopian Dreams

Abyssina is a term that refers to the ancient Ethiopian kingdom.
Their show is being presented in the New Victory Theater in Manhattan.
In February The New Vic will be showing, “A Simple Space,” a show of acrobats using no props or riggings.

The Ethiopian circus includes many acrobats, foot juggling with rug spinning, a Reisly act, aerial acts, a rola bola act, a hooper, acrobalance, and toss juggling. Between acts the team does an extended traditional dance. At one point a comic used audience participation to lighten the mood.

‎The toss jugglers were Mehari Bibi Tesfamariam and Binyam Bichu Tesfamariam. They passed three, six, seven, and eight clubs. They began with three and did take-aways and a runaround. With six they did shoulder throws, pirouettes, and tomahawks in a two-count. They did seven with doubles and finished with eight. The two brothers are also the show’s creators. Originally from Jimma in Ethiopia, they have been living in London for about ten years.

Mehari: “Back in Ethiopia we carved our own clubs out of wood. Our French teacher introduced us to juggling and we became hooked. Circus wasn’t really a thing back then. We enjoyed being different. It’s still our favorite thing to do. The connection you share with the audience is exhilarating, rewarding, and addictive. It’s the love of live artistic creation and the thrill of never knowing what’s going to happen.
Binyam: “Since I was a child I dreamed of performing in New York, especially during the holidays. We grew up with movies such as, ‘Home Alone II’ and ‘Miracle on 34th Street.’ I’ve always wanted to visit.”

The next act was a standard rola bola act. After jumping rope and hand-stands, he switched the cylinder out for a basketball. Next he did a five cylinder stack. To give it more danger, he performed on an eight-foot-high platform.

Unfortunately several of the circus members were absent because they were denied visas. They were replaced by local talent including New Yorker Aerialist Summer Lacy who performed, not on silks but on less forgiving chains, and hula-hoop artist Zenebech Kassa who lives in Las Vegas and has a magnetic smile and kinetic persona.

After the intermission, the music changed from traditional Amharic to more modern tunes. But the two best acts finished up the show. The last and most visual act, and the only one with much of a rigging, saw eight men climbing up and sliding down two vertical poles (“Chinese Poles”). They leapt from pole to pole, or climbed up while another leaped over his colleague on the way down. The strength and timing involved was remarkably powerful and precise.

The penultimate act was four women doing a Chinese style acrobalance/handstand/contortionist routine. They bent over backwards while doing handstands on each other in a variety of pyramids and flower shapes. On one occasion, one women acted as the base for all three of the others dynamically posed on top of her. She then switched and a different woman was the base for the other three in a completely different pose. They finished with a four-way mouth-stick prop and each grasped her own mouthstick, bent over backwards, and was suspended above the stage in a different pose complementing each other. Fantastic.

Besides the Tesfamariam brothers who act as producer and director, (and who’s third brother Elshaday Shimels is tour manager), the creative team includes Cal McCrystal as writer, Kate Smith as choreographer, and Mike Duff as tech support. Mike Duff has performed in circuses for 24 years including being a member of the Wallenda family when they set a Guinness record performing an 8-person, 4-level, human pyramid walk across a high wire 30 feet up.

The Tesfamariams also sponsor The Wingate Circus School in Ethiopia, and provide equipment and support for other circus schools.

Raphael Harris was the proprietor of the Jerusalem Circus School for Children for over ten years. He has performed "Sir Juggley's One Man Circus" over a thousand times. He appeared in the Guiness Book of World Records twice and the Record Setters Book of World Records three times. He lives in New York.

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