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Bibi Tesfamariam

We are Ethiopian brothers Bibi and Bichu Tesfamariam, 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.

Of course, Ethiopia is a country without a circus tradition, so for a long time our fantasy of a circus life was beyond our reach.  But like all children, we were indifferent to impossibilities, stubborn and intrepid in the face of doubt, and like all dreams, ours didn't deal in probabilities.  So we performed anyway, taking every chance that came our way to entertain an audience - at festivals, at school events, even taking to the Jimma city streets, flipping and tumbling for the jostling crowds.  

Bichu Tesfamariam

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.  

And it was as if our dream exerted its influence on reality, because as we grew up, so it seemed did the amateur circuses and circus schools around us; by the late 1990s, though they still weren't held in high esteem, circus arts were burgeoning in Ethiopia.  Snatching our chance, we left home and joined Circus Jimma, embarking on a tour through Europe which brought us to the UK for the first time in 1996.  It wasn't until finally coming to England and performing to critical acclaim at Brighton festival that it hit us the circus life we'd been chasing was within our grasp; the joy and pride we felt in that moment is something we’ll never forget. 

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 Gandini and Gandini Juggling is one that has spanned our careers, and Sean's tenaciously generous support and guidance over the years have been invaluble 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 Akhnetan.  Interspersing live gigs with numerous TV appearances, we have juggled on the BBC, ITV and Channel 4, on shows including 'The Paul O'Grady Show', and 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway', and have broken world records along the way.  Also, from 2002-2016, we were the resident jugglers at Giffords Circus, a magical musical traditional English circus, which hearkens back to the bygone, pastoral travelling communities of the 1930s. Touring with them during the summer every other year until 2010, and every year until 2016, our experience at Giffords was akin to a living incarnation of the vision of the circus we dreamed up as children.

Of course, given how we came to be jugglers, supporting the next generation of circus artists is very important to us, and we regularly hold workshops, attend juggling conventions, and since 2010, we've 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.  Bichu is now their manager, and its members all have starring roles in our upcoming show, Circus Abyssinia

As the astonishing abilities of the Abyssinia Troupe attest, the lack of a circus tradition in Ethiopia is not for want of driven, passionate, or prodigiously talented circus artists.  Actually, we are incredibly lucky to be performing at a time of growth and change in the global circus community, and it doesn't seem too much to say that the time has come for a new vision of circus in Ethiopia. This is a possibility that we explore in our debut show, Circus 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.

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