Champion jugglers Bibi and Bichu have appeared in the English National Opera, been scouted by Tim Burton to star in his new remake of Dumbo and now they bring their skills to the Fringe.
Champion jugglers Bibi and Bichu bring the memories of their childhood in Africa to life with their debut circus act, Ethiopian Dreams.
It all started with three oranges. Hanging around the school playground one lunchtime, in their small Ethiopian village, teenagers Bibi and Bichu Tesfamariam noticed a teacher juggling fruit. Intrigued, they asked to give it a try.
“The next day he showed us some circus videos and we were just amazed and fascinated,” recalls Bichu. “From then on, it’s all we dreamed about.”
Today, the brothers are in demand across the world, juggling everywhere from Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway to English National Opera. And later this year, they’ll start filming Tim Burton’s live action remake of Dumbo, Big Ears. All of which is a far cry from those early days in Ethiopia.
“We started off by making our own wooden clubs,” explains Bichu. “They were heavy, uncomfortable to hold and really hurt if they hit you. But it meant that when we eventually got professional juggling clubs, they were so easy for us to use.”
Juggling and acrobatics quickly became the centre of their world, taking up most of their time outside school.
“When we first began we practised eight or nine hours a day,” says Bichu. “Our poor mum and dad used to bring snacks to the training centre, because we didn’t want to leave – and even going home after training, we would juggle as we walked along the road. We had such dedication and passion.”
But although the brothers knew they were getting better every day, it wasn’t until they moved to England, aged just 15 and 16, that they found other jugglers to compare themselves to.
“We didn’t know how good we were until we were invited to juggling conventions and festivals in Europe,” says Bichu, with modesty in his voice. “Then we saw how much interest people were taking in us and thought oh, we’re actually quite good!”
In 2010, years of successfully working in British circus inspired Bibi and Bichu to “give something back” by sponsoring an acrobatic school in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. Out of which, the talented Konjowoch Troupe was born – who will join the brothers on stage for their Fringe show, Circus Abyssinia: Ethiopian Dreams, a semi-autobiographical tale of two brothers who long for a career in the circus.
A mix of juggling, contortionism and gravity-defying acrobatics, the show has a close family relationship at its heart – something which has sustained Bibi and Bichu throughout their careers, even if it was sometimes tough living in each other’s pockets.
“I’m not going to lie, as much as we love each other there are times when we need our own space,” laughs Bichu. “But whenever we fall out, it’s always juggling and circus that brings us back together.
“And we really appreciate each other. We were so young when we moved to England, we didn’t speak the language and went through some really hard times. Without my brother, I don’t think I would have survived – and likewise for him.”
WORDS: Kelly Apter
PHOTO: Gemma Hall
WHERE & WHEN
Circus Abyssinia: Ethiopian Dreams, Underbelly Circus Hub, 5-26 August (not 14 or 21), 3pm
From £13.50 Tel: 0131 226 0026