Mother Africa

Critics' pick
Photograph: Circus Der Sinne
Mother Africa

Mother Africa. New Victory Theater (see Off Broadway). By Circus Der Sinne. Directed by Winston Ruddle. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 30mins. One intermission.

Mother Africa: in brief

Tanzania's Circus Der Sinne makes its American debut with a pan-African pageant of music, acrobatics and masks.

Mother Africa: theater review by Raven Snook

Circus is the international language of all-ages entertainment, regardless of where the troupe hails from. Mother Africa’s Circus Der Sinne ("Circus of the Senses") is based in Tanzania and showcases performers from all over the continent. But though the show features African aesthetics—colorful costumes, traditional dancing and a percussion-heavy band playing rousing songs with pulsating beats—little time is spent on cultural context. No matter; you can always read the program for all that. Instead, this jubilant 90-minute spectacle (which should lose its momentum-killing intermission) delivers one thrill after another, from the familiar (balancing, unicycling, stilt walking) to the exotic (a gumboot and tap-dance combo, jaw-dropping human foot-juggling).

What some of the acts lack in precision they make up for in exuberance. Even when one of Merherete Yeshewamebrat Kassa’s hula hoops goes crashing to the floor or Ibrahim H. Mussa Tulwo aborts his four-tiered balance-board trick (for the record, he did it perfectly on his second try), the performers still beam with infectious joy. As well they should: Director Winston Ruddle, a former street performer himself, helped train all of the acts at his open-door circus school, which helps lift young African artists out of poverty and strife. Mother Africa has been touring internationally since 2006 and is a testament to the program’s success.

Highlights include unicyclist Baraka Juma Ferouz, who rides both the biggest and smallest one-wheeled contraptions you’re likely to see with a hilarious you’re-kidding-me attitude each time he’s presented with a new challenge. Frighteningly flexible contortionist Ersi Teame Gebregziabher from Ethiopia earns audible ows as he twists himself into impossible shapes. But the climactic Icarian Games, a pair of human foot-jugglers from Ethiopia, are the obvious favorite. Tamrat Yemane Ayalew lies back and launches his young partner, Tomas Teka Alemu, high into the air with a swift kick of his feet. Alemu's twists and turns are dizzying, thrilling and the kind of feat that inspires wistful dreams of joining the circus, no matter how old you are.—Theater review by Raven Snook 

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