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New Victory Blog

The New Victory Blog is a place to learn more about New York's theater for families and the shows we produce. Find out what we do and what we're passionate about—exploring the arts as a family.

Ever since our Senior Director of Artistic Programming, Mary Rose Lloyd, first saw Circus Abyssinia: Ethiopian Dreams in 2017, we eagerly anticipated sharing this vibrantly talented troupe with our audiences in New York City. Just weeks before opening at the New Vic, several Circus Abyssinia company members were inexplicably denied visas by the U.S. Embassy to travel from Addis Ababa and perform in the United States. Circus Abyssinia and The New Victory Theater would like to thank the international circus community for helping us to find artists to perform alongside the original cast on the New Victory stage in record time.

This beautiful "new" production came together so quickly that bios of the cast and creative team were not available for audiences for some of the early performances. Read about the extraordinary artists of Circus Abyssinia—both old and new—below!
 

Introducing the New Company Members of Circus Abyssinia

ABREHAM MOLA (ACROBAT)
Where are you from? I'm from Ethiopia, from a village called Haya Hulet.
What inspired you to become a circus performer? I didn't think this was going to be my career when I started, as performing for a living isn't really an option in Ethiopia. Circus is more of a social thing, a way to spend time together, impress and outdo each other, or achieve things we couldn't do on our own. I loved it for that.
Where do you dream about performing? I've always dreamed of performing in the beautiful theaters of Paris.
What does #LoveOfTheater mean to you? Love for the stories that make us who we are or make us think about who we could be

ALEMAYEHU MULUGETA (ACROBAT & LITTLE BICHU)
Where are you from? Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
What inspired you to become a circus performer? My friends who loved circus inspired me to try it for myself. The rush of performing acrobatics, particularly when you're part of a group of people moving as one, made me realize that circus is what I most want to do. I still can't stop smiling when I'm on stage.
Where do you dream about performing? I dream of touring Africa and inspiring other people to join the circus.
What does #LoveOfTheater mean to you? Waking up and dreaming at the same time

EZERA NIGUSSE (ACROBAT & LITTLE BIBI)
Where are you from? A village called Gulele in Ethiopia
What inspired you to become a circus performer? Across from my school there is a circus school called Circus Wingate. When I was little I used to stop there to watch the acrobats on my way home. The amazing stunts they performed made me want to join them, and when I was eight years old I persuaded my parents to let me.
Where do you dream about performing? Broadway!
What does #LoveOfTheater mean to you? It means having fun, not being afraid to step into someone else's shoes and learn something new.

HELEN SHIMELES (ACROBAT)
Where are you from? Ethiopia. I live in Asco, a village near the capital city.
What inspired you to become a circus performer? I loved gymnastics when I was small, and through that I discovered circus. I used to watch videos of famous contortionists performing in Europe and just fell in love with the grace and creativity of the art form.
Where do you dream about performing? I dream about performing for my family and friends back in Ethiopia. It's still quite controversial for women to perform, so we've been biding our time. Slowly but surely, things are changing. I can't wait to share Circus Abyssinia: Ethiopian Dreams with our loved ones back home.
What does #LoveOfTheater mean to you? It means not being afraid to leave your comfort zone
and imagine how things could be different.

SUSAN VOYTICKY (ACROBAT)
Where are you from? I'm from Brooklyn, New York.
What inspired you to become a circus performer? While studying dance and theater in Paris, I found myself amazed by the circus shows there. The artists expressed themselves in ways I had never really seen, and it inspired me to become a person who could do the same for others.
Where do you dream about performing? Broadway
What does #LoveOfTheater mean to you? It means that theater is a space of magical transformation that everyone is a part of!
 

Meet the Original Company Members of Circus Abyssinia

MEHARI "BIBI" TESFAMARIAM (JUGGLER)
BINYAM "BICHU" TESFAMARIAM (JUGGLER)

Where are you both from? Bichu: We're from Ethiopia and grew up in a town called Jimma in the Kaffa region of Ethiopia (the birthplace of coffee!). We moved to England when I was 13 and Bibi was 12 years old and now live in London.
What inspired you to become a circus performer? Bibi: Our French teacher at school introduced us to juggling, and we were immediately hooked on the fun and the challenge of it. We practiced in the streets and for our friends and neighbors. We even carved our own juggling clubs out of wood. Circus wasn't really a thing in Ethiopia back then, so we enjoyed being different and showing people something they hadn't seen before. It's still our favorite thing to do!
Where do you dream about performing? Bichu: Since I was a kid I've dreamed of performing in New York at the holidays! I grew up watching movies like Home Alone 2 and Miracle on 34th Street, so I always longed to visit such a magnificent city during the most magical time of the year.
What does #LoveOfTheater mean to you? Bibi: For me, #LoveOfTheater is the love of live artistic creation, and the thrill of never knowing what's going to happen. It's a challenging, intimate art form, and as a performer, there's nothing more exhilarating, rewarding or addictive than the connection you share with an audience.

SISAY ABEBE (ACROBAT)
Where are you from? Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
What inspired you to become a circus performer? I knew I wanted to learn circus when I saw a troupe of acrobats holding a backflip competition near my house—flipping over and over, along the full length of a field. They seemed superhuman.
Where do you dream about performing? I've always wanted to perform in New York!
What does #LoveOfTheater mean to you? It's the joy of moving people and connecting with them. It means having the courage to look at ourselves and explore what makes us tick.

YABSERA ALABECHEW (ACROBAT)
Where are you from? Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
What inspired you to become a circus performer? I was really into gymnastics when I was little, and I loved circus as soon as I accompanied my friend to one of the classes at the Circus Wingate school. I fell in love with the thrill of performing stunts and acrobatics before a crowd—nothing can beat it.
Where do you dream about performing? Everywhere! I want to travel the world with Circus Abyssinia.
What does #LoveOfTheater mean to you? Love of imagination, love of truth, love of other people.

ETSEGENET ASHENAFI (ACROBAT)
Where are you from? Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
What inspired you to become a circus performer? Being passionate about gymnastics as a child sparked my desire to become an acrobat. Creating acts and choreographing routines with my best friends made me feel like I never want to do anything else.
Where do you dream about performing? The Roundhouse in London. I saw a cabaret show there when we were touring in England and the space is so unique and beautiful.
What does #LoveOfTheater mean to you? It's imagination come to life.

BETELHEM DEJENE (ACROBAT)
Where are you from? Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
What inspired you to become a circus performer? I took up circus on impulse. My best friends and fellow castmates, Helen, Sam and Etsegenet, inspired my love of circus. They're my sisters and performing with them makes me feel happy and free.
Where do you dream about performing? The Monte Carlo Circus Festival is one of the biggest in the world—I dream of performing there and meeting circus artists from all over the globe.
What does #LoveOfTheater mean to you? The thrill of opening yourself up to something new, of sharing in stories and experiences that aren't your own.

BEFEKADU ESMAEL (ACROBAT)
Where are you from? Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
What inspired you to become a circus performer? For as long as I can remember I've loved to perform. When I was a boy I used to perform acrobatics and street circus with my friends for passers-by in the city, and there's still nothing I love more than wowing a crowd.
Where do you dream about performing? I dream of touring America with Circus Abyssinia.
What does #LoveOfTheater mean to you? Love of living art and living stories. Love of the unique experience you share only with your fellow audience and cast members, where many different minds and imaginations work together.

SEMERET GETACHEW (ACROBAT)
Where are you from? I'm from a city called Dire Dawa in the far east of Ethiopia.
What inspired you to become a circus performer? I grew up learning circus skills with my best friends (now my castmates). They inspire me every day. Having them with me makes me feel I can go anywhere and do anything.
Where do you dream about performing? Ethiopia! There's no real circus tradition back home, and it's disapproved of by older generations for women to perform circus. It would be amazing to have the opportunity to share my work with my family.
What does #LoveOfTheater mean to you? I think #LoveOfTheater brings together people who love to laugh, gasp and see things anew. And anyone who's ever dared to dream.

DANIEL GEZAHEGN (ACROBAT)
Where are you from? Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
What inspired you to become a circus performer? I used to work as a wayala (a taxi driver's helper) in Ethiopia's capital, and performance and humor are a huge part of how wayala compete with each other in the busy city—the best way to attract passengers is to entertain them. I learned the joy of connecting with people through physical comedy and dance, and as soon as a circus school opened up near my home I joined up to train without a second thought.
Where do you dream about performing? I dream about performing all over the world and learning about other cultures while sharing my own.
What does #LoveOfTheater mean to you? It means love of risk and connection and the power of make-believe—the conjuring of worlds and relationships out of thin air.

ZENEBECH KASSA (HULA-HOOP ARTIST)
Where are you from? Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, but I now live in America and have been working in Las Vegas as a circus artist for three years now.
What inspired you to become a circus performer? When I was 10, I went to see my friend perform at a circus competition in Addis Ababa. I saw a girl hula-hooping there and something about that act called out to me. I started working every chance I could on taming those hoops.
Where do you dream about performing? There's no particular place I dream about. It's all about the audience, and wonderful audiences are everywhere. I was terrified the first time I performed, but the love and support of the audience made me realize I wanted to do this forever.
What does #LoveOfTheater mean to you? It means gaining new perspectives on life and allowing your imagination to run.

SUMMER LACY (CHAIN AERIALIST)
Where are you from? I was born and raised in New York.
What inspired you to become a circus performer? With all the tall buildings in New York, I spent a lot of time looking up in awe. I discovered aerial arts in college, it gave me people to literally look up to. I was hooked, and began training, performing and eventually teaching. It's become a passion and a mission that I absolutely love.
Where do you dream about performing? I have been fortunate enough to perform all over the
world. I'd love to perform in a feature film.
What does #LoveOfTheater mean to you? All artistic expression is a shared experience, but none more than live performance. Performers share emotions with an audience, sometimes without using words at all. It's a truly magical thing to experience the world through a creator's eyes. Live performances have cracked me up, moved me to tears, made me think or sometimes just kept me entertained. What's not to love?

KIDANE MITKU (ACROBAT)
Where are you from? I grew up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I came to work as an artist in America five years ago with my brother Mesganaw.
What inspired you to become a circus performer? The sheer fun of it! I was always the kid who loved showing off. My friends and I used to race to a spot near the market where we'd be guaranteed an audience, and we'd flip and tumble on the rocks on the great hill there. I never thought I’d be doing what I love for a living!
Where do you dream about performing? I've always dreamed of performing on Broadway.
What does #LoveOfTheater mean to you? Love of the courage to bare our souls and think and feel deeply

MESGANAW MITKU (ACROBAT)
Where are you from? Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, but I came to America five years ago, with my older brother, Kidane, to work as a circus artist.
What inspired you to become a circus performer? My brother—his passion for acrobatics was contagious and I grew trying to learn his moves. Then I just fell in love with circus for its energy and thrills.
Where do you dream about performing? It's going to be very, very hard to beat New York!
What does #LoveOfTheater mean to you? Life and beauty

 

Get to Know the Creative Team

MEHARI "BIBI" TESFAMARIAM (PRODUCER)
Since moving from Ethiopia to England at just 14, Bibi has juggled with Bichu in thousands of shows. Both brothers have also worked hard to support other Ethiopian artists. Since 2010, they've sponsored Circus Wingate, a circus school in Ethiopia, and provided many similar schools, such as Bita Brothers Circus, with equipment and support. At these schools, Bibi and Bichu discovered many incredible acrobats who started out like they did, honing their skills with no expectation of pay on city streets. In 2017, the brothers established their own company and teamed up with these artists to create Circus Abyssinia: Ethiopian Dreams.

BINYAM "BICHU" TESFAMARIAM (DIRECTOR)
Bichu moved to England with his brother at just 13 years old, and the pair have since juggled all over the country and much of the world. As Bichu's circus dreams came true, they also began to change. He was thinking more and more about acrobats just like him and Bibi back in Ethiopia, and it fuelled his desire to create a bonafide Ethiopian circus. Bichu's experience as a director and choreographer enabled him to fuse Ethiopia's astonishing musical and artistic heritage with traditional and contemporary circus arts to create Circus Abyssinia.

CAL MCCRYSTAL (WRITER)
Dubbed "Britain's funniest director," Cal McCrystal's prolific comedic direction career includes Broadway hits One Man, Two Guvnors and School of Rock, the clowning routines in Cirque du Soleil's Varekai and Zumanity, and his acclaimed revival of Gilbert & Sullivan's Iolanthe (2018). Cal is artistic director of Liverpool's Royal Court Theatre. He's also directed several productions for England's Giffords Circus, where he worked closely with Bibi and Bichu, inspiring them to create Circus Abyssinia. Cal not only wrote the dialogue for Circus Abyssinia, he has also been a mentor to the cast. The show is deeply indebted to his comedic vision.

KATE SMYTH (CHOREOGRAPHER)
Kate Smyth has decades of choreographic experience on and off the stage. A hugely successful international dancer, she's performed at four Royal Variety Performances in London, held the role of can-can soloist for the world-famous Bal du Moulin Rouge in Paris and performed at Frank Sinatra's 80th birthday celebration in LA. In recent years, she's choreographed productions for Cirque d'Hiver in Paris, Circus Roncalli in Germany and Giffords Circus in England, where she worked alongside Bibi and Bichu from 2012-16. She worked closely with Bichu to develop the choreography of Circus Abyssinia prior to its debut in 2017.

MARK WHATMOUGH (LIGHTING DESIGNER)
Mark is a technical producer and award-winning lighting designer based in the U.K. He has worked all over the country, programming and operating the lighting for prestigious award shows, concerts, theaters and top variety venues. Mark joined forces with Circus Abyssinia for the first time at Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2017, where he worked closely with Bichu to realize the director's vision of a non physical set of colors, lights and shades. He has continued to develop Circus Abyssinia's lighting for the show's runs at Underbelly Festival in London, and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2018.

GABY COOKE (STAGE MANAGER)
With a background in theater and academia, Gaby's connection with circus is a recent development in her career. She met Bibi and Bichu while tutoring the youngest members of the Abyssinia Troupe at Giffords Circus. Gaby fell in love with their story and their vision of an Ethiopian Circus, so she started working with the brothers to produce Circus Abyssinia in England. Her passion for all things theater soon extended to an indomitable love of circus, and she now works on the production aspects of Circus Abyssinia.

ELSHADAY SHIMELS (TOUR MANAGER)
Elshaday is Bibi and Bichu's younger brother and still lives in Ethiopia. Unlike his older brothers, he prefers to take an offstage role in the creation of circus. He is now the cast's tour manager, organizing the logistics of travel, taking care of the cast and the show's technical needs. With a background in computer programming and a talent for graphic design, Elshaday also plays a part in the creation of the company's artwork and digital publicity. He started touring with Circus Abyssinia in February 2018 at Adelaide Fringe.

MIKE DUFF (TECHNICAL SUPERVISOR)
Born and raised in Sarasota, Florida, Mike has performed in circus for the last 24 years as a member of the Wallenda family. He is a Guinness World Record holder for performing an eight-person pyramid, 4-tiers high, 30 feet off the ground, without any safety devices. He has performed all around the world and has been the head of rigging and head coach for one of the largest youth performing arts circus schools in the world. Moving from performing on the high wire, he has fit many roles. Production manager, lighting designer, sound designer and technical director. He has filtered into the events business and now runs Silver Wire Productions, an event production company based out of New Jersey and New York. Mike is very excited about being a part of Circus Abyssinia: Ethiopian Dreams.
Posted by Beth Henderson


The music of Circus Abyssinia: Ethiopian Dreams, all sung in the Amharic language, celebrates Ethiopia’s artistic and cultural heritage as a sovereign African nation. These were the songs creators Bibi and Bichu took with them as young boys on their first journey from Ethiopia to work in circuses around the world. Mixing the traditional and the contemporary, the music invites you to join the cast in celebrating their country's rich heritage. Listen here as you read more about the exuberant and powerful songs associated with each act of Circus Abyssinia: Ethiopian Dreams.

Opening Dance and Hand-Vaulting—"Abebayehosh" by Teddy Afro
"Abebayehosh" by Teddy Afro is a modern take on a classical song. Traditionally, it is sung by young girls in the early morning of the New Year, caroling door-to-door in exchange for bread or fruit. Meaning "blessing," it bestows well-wishes on its listeners. 

 

Hand-Vaulting
Photo: Maike Schulz

 

Contortion—"Ambassal" by Haymanot Tesfa
This beloved song was inspired by one of the country's most ancient places—Ambassel, a mountain fortress once ruled by the Jantiraran aristocratic family. It is also the name of one of the Ethiopian musical scales, signifying how integral the relationship between land and music is to Ethiopia's national identity.


Contortion
Photo: Andrey Petrov


Rolla Bolla—"Maringue Cha" by DJ Same
A song sung by a man to a woman who loves him, he's teasing her for feigning disinterest in him. The title "Maringe Cha" plays on the merengue, a dance exported to Ethiopia from the Dominican Republic. Despite the nod to another culture, the song itself is very much Ethiopian in style and is essentially about the dance of lovers as they tease and playfully rebuff each other.

 

Rolla Bolla
Photo: Maike Schulz


Cloth-Spinning—"Darign" by Jano Band
"Darign" translates to "permission" and denotes a ceremonial send-off for a bride. In this song, a woman sings about how she fell in love with a man for his eyes and now wants to marry him. In the show, four cloth-spinning women perform in response to the woman's story in a scene of playful, gossiping sisterhood. 


Cloth-Spinning
Photo: Andrey Petrov


Aerial Chain Act—"Dunya" by Anteneh Minalu
"Dunya" is a lament about time and destiny—a complaint that no matter how hard we work or what we do, time will catch up with us. "Dunya" means "earth" in Amharic, and also extends beyond its literal meaning to mean the universe and all of mankind. 

 

Aerial Chains
Photo: Maike Schulz

 

Icarian Games—"Hager Alegn" by Jano Band
Meaning "I have a country," this song celebrates Ethiopia as a land of origins—as the cradle of humanity, the source of the Blue Nile, the birthplace of coffee. It also calls for respect between cultures and for all of us around the world to embrace our unity, even as we acknowledge our differences. 

 

Icarian Games
Photo: Maike Schulz

 

Hula-Hoop—"Kal" by Jano Band
"Kal" is another song from Ethiopia's premier musical group—Jano Band, a leader in the creation of new Ethiopian music, and the first pioneer of Ethiopian rock. "Kal" means "vow" and the song describes a young woman's promise to herself to never be impressed with money or material things and to never forget that love is the most beautiful and precious gift of all. In the show, we also see this "vow" transform into an artist’s promise to herself to never lose touch with the sheer joy of performing.

 

Hula-Hoop
Photo: Maike Schulz

 

Contortion Dance—"Misekir" by Fikreaddis Nekatibeb
"Misekir" in English means "witness," and this song tells the story of the triumph of love over money. "Misekir" accompanies the final contortion act, performed by four young women—a celebratory, life-affirming exploration of what is possible when individual limits are surpassed by people working and performing together.
 

Contortion
Photo: Che Chorley

 

Rigging of the Chinese Poles—"Tikur Sew" by Teddy Afro
The lyrics asserts Ethiopia as an example for all African nations to follow, describing the country as the cradle of humanity to which the beginnings of history and culture can be traced, the only nation to be ruled by an African monarchy until 1975 and a country that has resisted all attempts to colonize it.

This scene harkens back to creators Bibi and Bichu's childhood. As young boys, Bibi and Bichu would wake at 3:00am and walk five miles to the Boye Dam. There, they would pluck large, heavy reeds to create safety mats to perform acrobatics after school. While they carried the reeds from the dam in the dark, they warded off their fears and exhaustion by singing their favorite chants and songs. When the troupe rigs the Chinese Poles for the show's final act, they act out the age-old work tradition of keeping spirits high by joining voices in song.
 

Chinese Pole and Finale—"Utopia" by Bang La Decks
This infectiously upbeat song is a modern electro dance-track that plays on a traditional Amharic saying, "Ethiopia hiwote," meaning "Ethiopia, my life," or, "My life is Ethiopia." The lyrics extend an invitation to dance in celebration of Ethiopia's "Utopia."

 

Chinese Pole
Photo: Che Chorley

Posted by Beth Henderson
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