Circus Abyssinia’s Ethiopian Dreams offers an hour of ebullient escapism. At its best – in a nonchalant, rhythmically dynamic juggling routine, for example – it moves beyond slick acrobatic entertainment and becomes a study in physical (and mental) harmony.
The production – which comes to Underbelly via a run at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe – is a success story through and through. The brainchild of self-taught brothers Bichu and Bibi Tesfamariam, it comprises a cast drawn from the siblings’ Addis Ababa circus school.
There’s little need for elaborate sets here. The performers, initially dressed in joyfully kaleidoscopic garments, launch into an exhilarating human juggling routine that sees 13-year-old Ezera Nigusse and 17-year-old Alemayehu Mulugeta propelled through space to perch perfectly on the shoulders of their colleagues.
A quartet of young women dazzle with cloth-spinning and contortion sequences. The former, in which brightly-coloured squares of fabric whirl round the performers’ hands and feet like jaunty gyroscopes, is an incredible feat of co-ordination and control. Any errant cloths are quickly retrieved.
The contortion routines, involving snake-print lycra, are awe-inspiring to the point of discomfort. Pelvic floors become actual floors – the acrobats bend and balance while grasping each other’s hip bones. In the most wince-inducing moment, forbidding metal apparatus are brought on which the women grip with their jaws. It’s dental daredevilry that’s difficult to comprehend.
As with so much circus, the women exhibit their superhuman suppleness and don’t get to join the boisterous tumbling. Nevertheless, this is a show to be roundly applauded and admired.