It’s like having a smaller version of Cirque du Soleil — with an East African edge — onstage at the Children’s Theatre Company.
“Ethiopian Dreams,” by Circus Abyssinia, opened over the weekend in Minneapolis with oodles of primal joy. Its feats of daring and dexterity are ooh-some and aah-some.
No animals do tricks in this modern cirque, the first time a show of this type has been on the Children’s Theatre stage. Nor are there any oddities or freaks — things that define traditional circuses. But there is lots of freakish talent.
Contortionists bend their bodies into shapes that make them seem as boneless as any octopus. Acrobats somersault effortlessly through the air. And mesmerizing jugglers use their heads, noses and feet.
Founded by brothers Mehari “Bibi” Tesfamariam and Binyam “Bichu” Tesfamariam, who juggle in a cameo near the end, the company has brought a show that offers immediate thrills.
Still, the acts provoke questions. One wonders more than once: How did they come up with that trick?
That’s especially true of “hoop-diving,” an impressive act by the quartet of contortionists who balance the weight of their bent bodies with their mouths as they bite onto the padded ends of a metal contraption. We’ve seen dogs hang on to a rope with their mouths. Humans can do that, too.
That bit is strange and strangely alluring. I suppose that’s a feature of all good shows that grab and provoke you.
But most of the risk-taking in “Dreams,” even the death-defying feats, are of the type we have seen before. No matter: The danger is real and adds to the excitement of all of it.
When performer Betelhem Dejene, who is gifted on the silks, winds herself high in the ceiling, we can see that there’s nothing under her but a hard floor. She suddenly drops to stop a foot or so off it.
And the acrobats flipping through hoops or on the Chinese poles do so without nets. Should something go wrong, they may have just a minder on the floor to catch them.
Actually, when mistakes happened at the late performance Saturday, they were small and a reminder of the stakes. A hula hoop flew into the front row from a solo performer. At another time, a person somersaulting onto the shoulders of a guy who was standing atop another guy missed. That failure made his success more impressive.
“Dreams,” which comes in two acts, doubles as an Ethiopian cultural showcase. That’s because nearly all the acts are performed to a sound score of Ethiopian music, including songs from the likes of Teddy Afro, Haymanot Tesfa and the Jano Band. And there are a few traditional dance moves choreographed by Kate Smyth.
And that rhythmic soundtrack helps the audience to clap along to a show that’s studded with diverting thrills.