Mother Africa at the New Victory Theater, Times Square, New York

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The first thing you notice is the plethora of color. Colorful sights and colorful sounds. African costumes, and African music. Before during and after each act. The format is traditional circus. Act follows act. But instead of clowns between the acts, the troop comes out and does a high-energy tribal dance. Each dance is different – different costume, different music – corresponding to a specific tribe or region in the dark continent.

After the live seven piece band warms up the audience, the first act appears. Baraka Juma Ferouz rides a three-wheel giraffe uni, eight-foot giraffe, walks the wheel, jumps rope, spins, rides with one foot, and juggles three clubs up there. And to prove that less is more, he finishes with a uni you could fit in your lunch box.

The next two acts are strictly classic Chinese style. First, a stacking chair act by Yusuphu Ramadhani Fuko getting things five chairs high, which was about as high as the theater’s ceiling would allow. Up there, he executes four separate one-arm hand stands and belly-presses. Next, rug spinning and foot-juggling by Sewasew Alemu Truneh (a girl) and it’s good. She tosses a large vase/jug in several directions and then a wooden table, spinning and whirling on the x, y, and z axis. She finishes by spinning it on one foot and keeping three rugs going on her other appendages. Obviously someone Chinese is training these kids.

Next up, a Russian style act with hula hoop. By now it occurs to you (if you’ve seen a lot of circus) that the tricks are all going to be Chinese or European style, and jazzed up with African motifs. So you either like that or not. I happen to like it very much because I love circus, am used to seeing the same acts over and over, and don’t expect too much. I only demand that the acts be on a high level in terms of technique and I can unequivocally say that Mother Africa’s artist were all dedicated, talented and on as high level as many Russian and Chinese troops I’ve seen. And that’s saying a lot.

Mother Afrika 2010 095Unfortunately no toss juggler, but after the tap dancers and contortionist, Ersi Teame Gebregziabher, a guy whose spidery poses don’t prepare you for his jumping rope with his arms and clasped fingers, out comes the diabolo, rola-bola, hand to hand (acro-balance) and the Icarian Games Act. So, no toss-juggling, but certainly prop manipulation and related skills. Wusshet Amare Sahale on diabolo does many solid one and two diabolo tricks including suicides at excalibur, and finishes with sixteen throws of a three diabolo high shower. No three diabolo shuffle and no four diabolo shower, so not on the highest level, but close.

Ibrahim H. Mussa Tulwo on rola bola starts off rather slow and executes three errors in the opening bit but redeems himself later with several tricks on the three cylinder stack and finishes with a five cylinder stack which I’ve only ever seen once before by a Bulgarian troop. His was the only act with even one noticeable error.

Fadhili Ramadhani Rshidi and Omary Ramadhani Omary on ‘hand to hand’ (acro-balance, or in this case afro-balance) do the same act I’ve seen a jillion times and frankly I’m sick of it. But they do it on as high a level as I’ve ever seen and include the Chinese head-to-head head-stand (with no hands) which is pretty amazing. Also, the base man has simply the most astonishing body I’ve ever seen in my life. He looks like a bodybuilder in a cartoon.

MA 2013 Icarien GamesThe last act was the best and it blew me away, which I haven’t felt at a circus in a long time. I mean, I love circus and go all the time, but I haven’t felt that ‘circus thrill’ for a while. Well, actually the Chinese can still do it when they whip out those spinning plates, but rarely ever otherwise. BTW, you’ve also noticed that there are no animal acts in this circus which for an African circus leaves one wondering.

The final act, “Icarian Games” – also known as ‘people juggling’ – is clearly the best and worth the price of admission alone. This two man act consisting of Tomas Teka Alemu and Tamrat Yemane Ayalew is essentially antipodism (aka Risley) using the second man as the prop instead of a vase or table. He is kicked, spun, yo-yo’d, and flipped again and again in all possible combinations including 31 consecutive back-flips. That was really cool. The crowd went nuts.

Then the traditional ‘company’ farewell but with a troop of African dancers, African and Caribbean music, tribal costumes, high energy, intense almost meditative moves, and everyone joins in and the audience can’t help but getting up and dancing too. Jambo!

 

Raphael Harris

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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