The love of circus caught brothers Bibi & Bichu at a young age in Kaffa, Ethiopia. Ethiopian Dreams is a celebration of their own desires come to life.

The soundtrack of Bibi & Bichu echoes through the middle section of Circus Abyssinia’s Ethiopian Dreams, as the two creators themselves take to the stage to perform their renowned juggling act. And these two can certainly juggle. The act of supplanting young circus practitioners Ezera Nigusse and Alemayehu Mulugeta highlights how the love of circus caught brothers Bibi & Bichu at a young age in Kaffa, Ethiopia. Ethiopian Dreams is a celebration of their own desires come to life.

Circus Abyssinia Ethiopian Dreams

Image courtesy of Andrey Petrov

But this routine, the only one that the two founders of Circus Abyssinia take part in, is in many ways the problem. Not because it isn’t a spectacle but precisely the opposite. The soundtrack fuses jazz and scat with cultural world music, all supported by a highly rhythmic, electro style beat. It’s joyous to listen to and it runs throughout the whole of the production. The two founders are instantly loveable, a fraternal connection and micro-signals to each other that have been honed and developed through years of performing. Before each perfectly executed routine, the two prepare themselves ritualistically, paying homage to the craft that they have dedicated their lives to perfecting. And it pays off.

The problem is that the rest of Ethiopian Dreams isn’t nearly so polished. It shouldn’t be completely slick and seamless – the raw energy that emanates from this troupe is part of the joy of watching. It effortlessly intermingles with the bright colours, radiant costumes and beaming, genuine smiles that are stuck to each face on stage. The show becomes tighter towards the end, with the final two acts of acrobalancing and Chinese pole providing the perfect platform to show off the production’s prowess.

Circus Abyssinia Ethiopian Dreams

Image courtesy of Andrey Petrov

But in parts, this is a messy performance. The movements are fluid and well executed, but too often lack a feeling of self-confidence that puts an audience at ease. A clever variation on spinning plates, using cloth, sees the acrobats drop their materials; a hand balancing act combined with contortion is slightly ill-prepared and as such wobbles; the variety of tricks within each section itself at times falls short. These are all little niggles in isolation, but they build up a picture of Circus Abyssinia that isn’t yet at the top of its game.

The potential and the promise are there in spades though. Bibi & Bichu select a series of ingenious alternatives to typical circus – Yohanns Mathewos showcases balance uses a simple ladder construction; Daniel Gezahegn’s clowning generates a cacophony of laughter around the tent because of its simplicity. The spectacle of the male performers in Ethiopian Dreams’ final act provides the climax that is needed, each acrobat showing off their moves with competitive confidence and an elated enthusiasm. The metaphor of continuing to determinedly climb towards their dreams and reach for the stars is a positive conclusion for all to see.

Circus Abyssinia Ethiopian Dreams

Image courtesy of Matilda Temperley

Circus Abyssinia is an inspirational story that has founded a community based on a love of performing in an area where circus discipline was an alien concept. The sheer excitement and happiness that emanates from each performer is enough to provide an entertaining show. With time, through Bibi & Bichu’s instilled ethic of hard-work and love for the craft, Ethiopian Dreams has the potential to rival troupes at the top of their game.

 

 

★★★☆☆

Ethiopian Dreams runs at Underbelly Festival Southbank until 20 May 2018. For further information, please visit the venue website.