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Ethiopian Dreams Come True for a Talented Troupe

Brothers Bibi and Bichu bring their Circus Abyssinia to the New Victory Theater.

High above the stage in Circus Abyssinia: Ethiopian Dreams, directed by Binyam "Bichu" Tesfamariam, at the New Victory Theater.
(© Che Chorley)

Circuses are not a big part of the culture in Ethiopia, and performers there who do aspire to a career in one often have a difficult time making a living. This makes it all the more extraordinary that brothers Mehari and Binyam Tesfamariam, who go by the names Bibi and Bichu, respectively, have created the marvelous Circus Abyssinia: Ethiopian Dreams, a thrilling and flat-out delightful extravaganza that showcases some of the most talented jugglers, tumblers, and contortionists you're likely to ever see. With 18 performers (including Bibi and Bichu), Circus Abyssinia: Ethiopian Dreams makes for an eye-popping, laugh-out-loud experience for families with children 5 and up.

Circus Abyssinia doesn't have a concrete storyline, but in a way it does tell the tale of Bibi and Bichu's journey as they dream of becoming circus performers and encounter other dreamers along the way. We meet younger versions of them at the beginning when Ezera Nigusse and Alemayehu Mulugeta come onstage and show off their acrobatic and juggling skills.

Contortionists construct a human pyramid in Circus Abyssinian.
(© Che Chorley)

The scenes that follow, accompanied throughout by modern and traditional Ethiopian songs sung in the Amharic language, are no less impressive and get consistent applause from the audience. First among them are contortionist and juggling acts by the show's four female performers, and a nail-biting routine involving an acrobat who balances high above the stage on nothing but a small board and a cylinder.

The fifth act incorporates physical comedy more than physical strength as Daniel Gezahegn gets the kids in the audience screaming with laughter with some good old-fashioned clowning. Youngsters can feel free to talk to Gezahegn as he jokes with the audience and does a silly tightrope act with two good-sport grown-ups who join him onstage. It's one of the most charming acts in the show.

Zenebech Kassa performs her Hula-Hoop routine in Circus Abyssinia.
(© Maike Schulz)

Zenebech Kassa comes next with an impressive routine featuring brightly colored Hula-Hoops, followed by two other acrobats carrying out a jaw-dropping routine of foot juggling. Though there's much more to come after the intermission, including Summer Lacy's aerialist performance with two thick chains, most young people in the audience were thoroughly engaged for the show's hour and 45 minutes, right up to the grand finale when half a dozen of the show's acrobats execute nerve-racking feats on two tall poles that reach nearly the height of the stage.

With its fast-paced music, colorful costumes, and Kate Smyth's exuberant choreography, the show's high energy is infectious. Mark Whatmough's dramatic lighting design also helps rev up the excitement throughout. The lulls between acts, when the stage goes silent and dark, are the only impediments to an otherwise fully engaging circus. That's a quibble, though, in this heart-pumping, thrilling, and fun show. Circus Abyssinia is a journey worth taking.

Bibi and Bichu take the stage for their incredible juggling act.
(© Maike Schulz)
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