Circus Abyssinia juggler Bichu Tesfamariam: ‘Our show is about every single artist back in Ethiopia’
The Ethiopian juggler went from showing off at the local market with his brother to performing with English National Opera and at the Millennium Dome. He tells Simon Fearn about his new show, Circus Abyssinia: Ethiopian Dreams, which tells the story of how the brothers found success and is performed by young people from an Ethiopian circus school they sponsor…
When did you and your brother first fall in love with circus?
We spotted our French teacher doing a bit of juggling. We thought it was fascinating and asked him how he did it. The next time we saw him, he gave us a video tape of Alegria by Cirque du Soleil. That video never left our video player. Every Saturday after that, my brother and I used to put on a little show for the people who came to the big market in front of our house.
What was your big break?
There was a circus called Circus Ethiopia back in the day. They came to our town and they spotted my brother and I juggling and signed us up to their circus school. Then we went on tour to Brighton in 1998 – that was our first experience of being on a big stage.
What has been the proudest moment in your career so far?
We gave a chance to the kids back in Ethiopia who wanted to learn circus skills by sponsoring the Circus Wingate school. They became the troupe for Circus Abyssinia. Seeing those kids perform at this year’s Royal Variety Performance next to Cirque du Soleil was one of my proudest moments. My brother and I were pinching ourselves.
Is it easier to make it as a circus performer in Ethiopia now than when you were a child?
There are more than 100 circus schools in Ethiopia and a lot of kids have done some amazing stuff, but it’s just getting that opportunity to show other people what they are working on and what they have done. Ours is the only circus school that actually brings the whole troupe’s work on tour, and we’re hoping to open another school in England for refugees and asylum seekers.
How did you come to create a circus show based on your own childhood ambitions?
It’s been a dream for us to do our own show. In 2015 we were working for Giffords Circus. The director Cal McCrystal said my brother and I joining the circus would be one of the storylines on his show Moon Songs. That was our inspiration. The show is about every single artist back in Ethiopia. The kids in the troupe dream about what they want to do and where they want to perform, just like we did.
How are you telling the story?
It starts with two young kids, my brother and I, trying to juggle oranges. We didn’t have any professional stuff to juggle with back in Ethiopia. We’re talking to the moon about our dream of running away and joining the circus, and the moon is explaining to us that if you work really hard and dedicate yourself to what you dream about you’ll actually achieve it.
CV: Bichu Tesfamariam
First professional role: Big at the Millennium Dome, with Gandini Juggling (2000)
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