The incredible 15-strong Abyssinia group, Circus Abyssinia is hurling into London’s Underbelly Festival inEarls Court tonight with the production running until 18th June 2022. Following their acclaimed production of #Ethiopian Dreams, Circus #Abyssinia is returning with the exhilarating London premiere of their second production Tulu.
Celebrating the true tale of an Ethiopian icon, charting her rise from humble beginnings to become the first African woman to win Olympic gold, the show sees jaw-dropping performances including the Cyr Wheel, Russian Swing and Contortion.
Co-founded and produced by Bibi Tesfamariam and Bichu Shimellis, who also directs, the 15-strong troupe will showcase incredible talent in the iconic upside down, purple cow, Udderbelly at Underbelly Festival Earl’s Court. There is contortion and rollerblading from Etsegenet Ashenafi and Semeret Getachew, Cyr Wheel from Hannah Tina alongside aerial flight from Bezawit Ashagre. Joining them are hoop-divers and Russian swing artists Behaylu Tesfaye, Cherenet Dereje and Dagmawi Fekeru, who perform awe-inspiring stunts with the youngest members of the troupe, Ezera Nigusse and Alemayehu Mulugeta. Dagmawi also performs IcarianGames with Zenebe Fantu and Betelhem Dejene leads the troupe in stunning displays of hand-vaulting and synchronised acrobatics.
A dazzling display of speed, skill and flight has landed in Earl’s Court. Following their acclaimed production of Ethiopian Dreams, Circus Abyssinia has returned with the exhilarating London premiere of their second production Tulu.
Celebrating the true tale of an Ethiopian Olympic icon, Derartu Tulu, this is an unmissable showcase of superhuman strength. A blend of breathtaking contortion, awe-inspiring acrobatics, and mesmerising fire-juggling with a rocking, exuberant soundtrack.
Derartu Tulu grew up in a tiny village where she tended cattle and lived to run – up and down steep valleys, and over dusty plains where hyenas prowled, she ran alone. With breath-taking displays of circus virtuosity, Circus Abyssinia celebrates the ferocious skill and tenacity of young Derartu: how, unmatched in speed and guile, she chased her dreams all the way to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and won gold in the 10,000m with a heart-racing sprint to the finish.
Derartu Tulu said today: ‘I’m excited and so flattered that Circus Abyssinia has chosen to tell my story I’m very intrigued by the circus arts, which are quite new to Ethiopia, and how they might express and connect with my passion for my sport’.
Bichu Shimellis added: ‘It’s very important to us to share Derartu’s story. ‘Tulu’ is inspired by a true Olympic icon and pays tribute to some of the extraordinary women who have helped shape Ethiopian history. Right now, women in Ethiopia are winning the long fight for equality, and their stories – sadly often ignored by history – need to be known. Derartu is one of the greatest unsung heroines of modern Ethiopia and we are thrilled to invite audiences of the UK to share and celebrate her life and achievements with us.’
For images: Craig Sugden – Twitter @craigsugden, FB Craig Sugden photography, Instagram @craig.sugden.photography
Meet the Cast
Betelhem Dejene has toured the world with Circus Abyssinia since its 2017 debut. In Tulu, she performs acts of speed and flight that capture the thrills of Derartu Tulu’s race to victory. Her participation in the show’s finale makes her the first Ethiopian woman to perform on the hair-raising ‘Russian Swing’.
Hanna Tina trained at her local circus school, Circus Wingate, for 8 years before joining Circus Abyssinia. In Tulu, she steps into the role of Derartu twice, with the daring poetry of the Cyr Wheel, which she mastered during the pandemic, then an aerial duet that articulates an athlete’s strength and grace.
Semeret Getachew has been touring with Circus Abyssinia since 2017 and performs acts of rollerblading and contortion in Tulu. With so few women on Ethiopia’s burgeoning circus scene, Semeret is proud to be blazing a path for young Ethiopian women and looks forward to the new generation seeing the world differently.
Etsegenet Ashenafi trained at Circus Wingate since she was 10 and is now a four-time national gymnastics champion in Addis Ababa. In Tulu, she enlists these skills to perform extraordinary feats of contortion: most remarkably in a sinuous performance inspired by Derartu’s real-life encounter with the hyenas that roam Ethiopia’s highlands.
Bezawit Ashagre joined Circus Wingate in 2010. Like many circus artists in Ethiopia, she trained for years without opportunity to perform professionally, but now she’s touring the world, from Australia to Singapore, London to New York. In Tulu, she performs stunning feats of aerial flight and solo contortion.
Bibi Tesfamariam and Bichu Shimellis are brothers who moved to the UK at just 13 years old, and the pair have since juggled in thousands of shows all over the world: from the Fuji Rock Festival to Philip Glass’ Akhnaten. In 2017 they were cast in Tim Burton’s Dumbo and used their wages to fulfil a long-held dream: they created Circus Abyssinia, the world’s first bona fide Ethiopian circus. Bibi and Bichu perform daredevil feats of fire juggling in Tulu. Their fiery juggling celebrates the magic of the Olympic Flame, as well as conjuring the sacred fire ceremonies of Ethiopia’s ancient tribes and churches.
Alemayehu Mulugeta ‘Alemayehu’ means ‘to have seen the world’ and this young acrobat is living up to his name, and with a good view too: since Circus Abyssinia was formed in 2017, he has been performing high-flying stunts all over the world, from Australia to Japan, Abu Dhabi to New York.
Ezera Nigusse is the casts youngest member who has trained at the Circus Wingate school since 2012. Ezera joined Circus Abyssinia at its inception and has performed in Europe, America, Asia and Australia, even gaining a spot on the UK’s Royal Variety Performance in 2017, where he met Prince William and Kate.
Befekadu Esmael is the rock of the cast, with an eagle eye for the safety of his acrobatic brethren. Having started out as a street performer in Addis Ababa, he joined Circus Wingate when it opened and now trains the younger students when he is not touring with Circus Abyssinia.
Daniel Gezahegn was a street performer before being cast in Circus Abyssinia in 2017. He trained at Circus Wingate for nearly a decade and developed his stage charisma while working as a wayela (a taxi driver’s helper): in Ethiopia, winning over passengers from other wayela is very much a performance art.
Behaylu Tesfaye was cast in Circus Abyssinia in January 2020 and now performs in the hoop-diving and Russian swing acts of the show. He has trained at Circus Wingate since 2015 and often visits schools throughout Ethiopia’s capital city to hold workshops and entertain children with his circus skills.
Cherenet Dereje joined the Circus Wingate school in 2015 and specialises in several disciplines, including hoop- diving and Russian Swing. He was cast in Tulu in 2020 and made his professional debut in Athens last August at the SNF Nostos Festival.
Zenebe Fantu joined Circus Wingate in 2008 and specialises in hand-vaulting and Icarian Games, a stunning combination of acrobatics and human foot-juggling. Zenebe has performed throughout Ethiopia as well as circus festivals in Germany, Ukraine, Russia, and China. When he is not touring, he also coaches aspiring acrobats at Circus Wingate.
Dagmawi Fekeru joined Circus Wingate in 2015. His signature acts are Russian Swing and Icarian Games and for years he has performed at schools throughout Addis Ababa. His first performances with Circus Abyssinia were in Athens at the SNF Nostos Festival and he’s thrilled to be performing at the Children’s Theatre.
UNDERBELLY and Bibi and Bichu present
CIRCUS ABYSSINIA: TULU
Empress Place, Earl’s Court, London SW6 1TT
24 May – 18 June
Director: Bichu Shimellis; Choreographers: Tamrat Ejeta, Bichu Shimellis;
Costume Designer: Feven Alem;Lighting Designer: Mark Whatmough
Cast: Hanna Tina, Betelhem Dejene, Etsegenet Ashenafi, Semeret Getachew, Bezawit Ashagre, Bibi Tesfamariam, Bichu Shimellis, Ezera Nigusse, Alemayehu Mulugeta, Befekadu Esmael, Daniel Gezahegn, Behaylu Tesfaye, Dagmawi Fekeru, Cherenet Dereje, Zenebe Fantu