Bibi and Bichu Tesfamariam
FEATURED IN: Rejoice Abyssinia
Bibi and Bichu Tesfamariam (Founders and Producers, Artistic Directors, Circus Abyssinia): We are Ethiopian brothers and our story began over two decades ago, with a shared childhood dream of joining the circus. Like so many performers, we’ve lived for the lure and lights of the stage for as long as we can remember; but it was when we glimpsed our first images of the circus on TV that our dream took definite shape. Already close as brothers, we grew up driven by a joint fascination with the feats of circus magic, acrobatic mastery and glamorous illusions achieved by the superhuman figures in the ring, inspired by a hope that one day, we could join them.
We picked up our first juggling clubs at 13 and 14 years old, and it was like finding the vital missing piece of a puzzle. With juggling, all our other skills fell into place: juggling’s kinship with rhythm and music, and its relation to acrobatics, allowed us to explore the art as a kind of choreography in its own right. Our juggling skills as a duo, our ability to work in absolute sync, owe so much to what we can only describe as the special communication between brothers; the absolute trust, the wordless intuition of each other’s moves and instincts, have an easy translation into a near-telepathic connection between performers, so vital to the electric synchronicity of which juggling is an expression.
Moving to England in 1999, we quickly discovered London’s Circus Space, where we met the brilliant Sean Gandini, one of the foremost figures of experimental contemporary juggling. Our relationship with Sean and Gandini Juggling is one that has spanned our careers, and Sean’s tenaciously generous support and guidance over the years have been invaluable in the transformation of our childhood vision of the future into a reality.
Since making our home permanently in the UK, we have juggled in thousands of shows in dozens of countries, worked with some truly amazing artists and companies, and participated in some of the most vibrant and challenging tours and festivals in the world, including the Millennium Dome celebrations in London, and the Fuji Rock festival in Japan. Our performance credits range from the most family friendly to the radical to the prestigious: from the gleeful abandon of CBeebies’ Justin’s House to the avant-garde experiments of Gandini Juggling, to the stunning (and Olivier-Award winning) English National Opera production of Philip Glass’s Akhnaten. From a serendipitous meeting with Tim Burton in the UK, we became part of the cast in his 2019 Dumbo.
Given how we came to be jugglers, supporting the next generation of circus artists is very important to us, so we regularly hold workshops, attend juggling conventions, and since 2010 have been sponsoring a circus school in Ethiopia, Circus Wingate. Back then full of talent but fighting a losing battle to stay open, Circus Wingate has since flourished, and it was there that we discovered the amazing Circus Abyssinia Troupe, who joined us in the UK in 2015. Its members all have starring roles in our show, Circus Abyssinia: Ethiopian Dreams. (https://vimeo.com/237197397) After a performance at the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Gail approached us with an idea that ultimately led to our collaboration with Opera Frontier on Rejoice Abyssinia.
Ultimately our hope is that the show can help create a space in the world for an African circus tradition that matches the exemplary standards of European circus art. A celebration of dreams, of the people who make them possible, and the strength in all of us to fight for them, Circus Abyssinia uses the wonderful, surrealist language of circus to tell our story – how we dreamed it as children, how we lived it, and live it today. Learn more at www.CircusAbyssinia.org.