Circus Abyssinia: Ethiopian Dreams (4 stars)

This article is from 2017

Circus Abyssinia: Ethiopian Dreams

Impressive East African twist on the circus format

Ezera Nigusse and AlemaYehu Mulugeta are the babies of the bunch here, playing the brothers Bibi and Bichu at the centre of this African circus show. Inspired by the real-life Tesfamariam brothers, who are a pair of street performers who dreamt of running away with the circus back in the 90s, before Ethiopia even had a circus tradition, Bibi and Bichu's story mirrors their own. Now they juggle in the show they created, alongside performers from Addis Ababa's Konjowoch Troupe circus school. Obviously a hothouse for bendy, mesmerisingly good acrobats, the troupe is trained by former Ethiopian gymnast coach, Solomon Tadese which explains the unique style of graceful contortion and strength that they take turns showing off here.

After what seems like an unnecessary introduction by a posh white Man in the Moon, the cast start arriving, parading about in excellent African patterned trousers while Arabic music plays behind them. Two female acrobats in snake bodysocks slither on stage, interlocking their leotarded limbs in an amazing liquid routine, as if practising a kind of effortless extreme yoga. Later they're joined by two other dancers to stack a human tower of core strength, elastic spines and rubbery neck muscles. The handvaulting sequences are hypnotic, there are no safety nets, just bodies being pinged and flung through the air with split-second precision like it's no big deal. It obviously wouldn't work without trust and lots of training, and both shine through.

It's a warm show where the performers, particularly Nigusse and Mulugeta, can't stop grinning as the crowd shows their appreciation.

An energetic finale sees the male acrobats catapulting themselves around two Chinese poles, then screeching down them, using their skinny jeans as brakes. Impressive and good fun, this East African twist on the well-known circus format gets two thumbs up.

Underbelly Circus Hub, until 26 Aug (not 21), 3pm, £13.50–£15.50 (£12.50–£14.50).

Circus Abyssinia: Ethiopian Dreams

An unashamedly joyful mix of astonishing stunts, astounding circus skills and enchanted adventure, which follows the magical journey of two little Ethiopian brothers, Bibi and Bichu, who dream of joining the circus.