Circus In Ethiopia
The New CircusesCircus Dire Dawa
Circus Debre Berhan
|The first performance of Circus
Ethiopia in Addis Ababa in1991 had a basic simple technique set up; a few
ropes were put, a cassette player was powered from a car cigarette lighter
and on went the show the audience comprise of some 700 or so children from
the neighbourhood. Each week, this number increased and today there are
often between 3000 and 5000 people attending the shows for free.
The Circuses performs usually on a weekly basis in different venues.
The circus groups, which have been working together since 1991 have
become almost a family. None of their members can imagine life without
circus any more. The children come from a variety of background:some were
born into ordinary Ethiopians families, others live in very poor conditions
some even in the streets.
The main circuses of Circus In Ethiopia work with children and youths in three groups:
The performance group: this group performs
usually every week free of charge in open spaces for the community; during
the school holidays it tours other regions of Ethiopia. The performance
groups also tours internationally. The 160 boys and girls, in Addis
Ababa, Jimma, Mekele, and Nazareth, aged between 8 and 21 years, permanent
members of the performing troupes are all encouraged to follow
their regular schooling and attend as well tutorial classes provided
by the circus. Most come from extremely poor backgrounds: they receive
a transport allowance, their medical needs are covered and meals are offered
after long practices and shows.The members come from different background
and religious groups. Most of them have been with the Circus right from
the start.Accommodation is also provided when needed near the Circus Compound.The
circus schools are taught by these youngsters which provides an income
for them. As well, within the administration structure the older
youths have also been trained and hired to support the functioning
of the organization. In fact, the main idea for the organization is to
provide a platform for the future of these young performers: in giving
support for their formal education, by providing training opportunities
for securing a future for themselves.
The Circus Schools are composed of children from the community who train in all circus skills. Their teachers are members from the performance group.An important circus concept is that young people should train young people.The Circus school gives occasional performances to the community and some pupils have become members of the performance group.Training usually takes place three times a week. Students pay a 10 Birr fee a month ( U$1.50).
The Street Kids Program: homeless and working youngsters are part of this project. They rehearse three times a week. Their trainers are members of the performance group. Children part of this program receive a meal at the end of every practice and receive transport money. One of the aims of the Street Children Program is to help them to put on a show o their own which can be perform outside in the street. This helps them to earn a bit of money and to replace begging with a more useful activity.
A circus movement for the youth: Today
the four main circuses are well established with the support of their communities
and humanitarian organizations. They perform usually every Sunday to three
to five thousand people a spectacle of circus, music and heath advocacy
in stadiums and open fields around the country. In 1997 it is estimated
that 700,000 people attended a circus performance in Ethiopia. Through
years of development the circus performances have now become original productions
with traditional costumes, music, and dance representing the rich cultural
legacy of Ethiopia. The circus acts, which were at first influenced by
western ideas are now inspired from traditional Ethiopian dances and movements.
The original group in Addis Ababa has started what can be called a youth movement within and outside Ethiopia. nine other cities have started their own circuses in the same style. It is difficult to know how many youths practice circus in Ethiopia. In 1997 the first Ethiopian circus festival regrouping the 6 largest circuses was held in Jimma. The week long event was attended by more than 60,000 people in Jimma. This important event has crystallized the circus movement for years to come. The second Ethiopian circus festival should be held in February 1999. In Somaliland and Eritrea circuses have already been established in the last years in cooperation with Circus Ethiopia. Discussions are ongoing to support the establishment of the circus concept in other countries in East and West Africa.
Today, more than 50 people are employed by the Circus across the country.
The activities of the Association are directed by a Board of Directors
composed of Founding Members and the Directors of the four main circuses.
“ The children are the mainspring of the circus and maintain asurprising amount of constant energy. The school, friends and family gravitate towards their passion for the circus. An art that nourishes their soul, that gives meaning to their lives. The show is a gift from the heart for everyone. The circus movement, because it is a real movement in this society, is, in its history and present development, a response to the needs and hopes of all who are members of Circus In Ethiopia. The goal of the circus is to seduce, to fill with wonder, and to build a future for the children of the circus”
Aweke Emeru, a passionate of gymnastics and Ethiopian traditions searched from the beginning ways of developing original acts for the shows:
“ When we started Circus Ethiopia, we began by copying Western circus tradition. However today we are evolving our own Ethiopian form of circus, combining many of our own cultural traditions. For instance the western circus focuses traditionally on the individual act, like high wire, acrobatics with the drum roll highlighting the individual drama and danger. Our style is more of a group activity, with less emphasis on individual acts of daring. We also incorporate many traditional cultural elements of dance and song in our routines.”
These two perspectives, one focused on the children's lives and future, and the other a search for sharing the strong Ethiopian culture and identity are the main impulses guiding the development of the art:
"The most important thing we are aiming at
is to build our own circus centers where we can live and work, where different
ideas and the energies of different people come together. Like a symbol,
we want to show our culture. We do not want to copy European culture; our
ideals are not the Eastern circuses or the North American circuses. We
have a strong identity of our own. With the help of the circus we want
to show our culture to other countries. But to achieve this we must live
together. We are getting land in the four cities where the circuses are
established and with the help of the international tours revenues and friendly
organizations we are planning to to establish the circus movement in a
permanent way. Within these centers we also want to establish training
facilities for many different jobs for our youths".
Circus Ethiopia has also attracted the interest of artist from abroad. «Cirque du Soleil» from Canada, European groups such has «Les Cousins» and «Oposito» for Rhinocéros 98 (France), «Labyrinth» (Germany), Circus Rodjeknor ( Netherlands) which supports them with ideas, equipment and money.