[Black Star Entertainment Reviewer]
After one of our usual banter, this time on the merits of our fellow Americans “needs” my friend, a native of Togo remarked with pride and resignation, “We Africans do so much with very little”.
This was the prevailing thought that occupied my mind throughout my experience of Circus Der Sinne’s “Mother Africa” now playing at the New Victory Theatre.
It’s a Cirque Du Soleil kind of circus, free of its technological grandeur yet grand in its impact. The cast though relatively small, is enormously talented. With the simplest of props- drums, chairs, cans- the most complex a unicycle, they would captivate the unsuspecting audience.
The backdrop for the stage featured a large map of Africa streaming picturesque images channeling iconic African motifs -a pyramid, the baobab, a sculpture of the majestic lioness – flanked on both sides by a kaleidoscope of light effects reverberating to African and diasporic rhythms from the live band. From there the artists from Benin, Ethiopia, Tanzania, South Africa and Zimbabwe would emerge on stage as if stepping out of the continent itself.
Circus Der Sinne translated means Circus of the Senses. From the sound of the first drum in the libation-like Drum Dance- heralding a flow of gleeful singers, dancers, girls showcasing their mastery of huge drums – until the last song some ninety minutes later, it’s a total arousal of the senses. The ambience is vibrant, a parade of tribal costumes and outfits with intricate patterns and designs in typically bold Afro centric colors. Throughout, the band jammed electrifying music that drives the melodious singing, traditional dances and astounding acrobatics acts. How original and clever is the Gumboot (a wellington boot wearing stomp dance that mimics how miners communicate) and Tap Dance combin
ation where contrast and comparison would embrace, spectacularly. Merherete on the hula hoops is vivacious and charming. It’s a joy to watch her petite frame in constant circular motion swirling the hoops into submission around almost every inch of her petite frame all the while beaming with an infectious smile.
Ersi is mesmerizing as he contorts his body into unimaginable pretzel-like forms as if boneless, some resembling alien creatures with foreboding auras. All the while he is enticed by Jean Marc on the flute in a performance akin to a snake charmer. Tamrat, in a reclined position would flip little Tomas into somersaults so many times with his feet during the Icarian Games act that they broke the record that night. After it all, Tomas, the little wonder-boy of the cast would stand aloof, chest sticking out, totally unruffled.
Baraka proves that no unicycle is too high or low for his riding. Whether ten feet high or one foot low he thrills the audience with his gravity defying audacity. Not to be outdone Yusuphu’s Chairs Act with chairs mounted at impossible angles and reaching treacherous heights is not for the weak at heart.
Ibrahim, that Rollo Bolla guy balancing on the constantly shifting mountain of cans; he belongs to that rare breed of men who challenge the laws of physics proving that one can be in constant motion and still, at the same time.
Omary and Fahili’s Hand to Hand act is a superb display of strength and flexibility whereby any part of the body can be used as the fulcrum to achieve their incredible angular poses. Sewasew’s Foot Juggling dexterity is awesome and fun. Wubshet’s diabolo act, skillful and smooth and he enjoys it so much that one wishes that it never ends. Finally the culturally poignant Stilt Dancer, a burst of color and tradition takes the stage, his entry through the audience, in a celebratory dance.
It’s baffling that this gem at the New Victory Theatre appears to be a well kept secret .My hope is that the lid will be blown open spilling its spectacular contents into the hearts of many New Yorkers. I left the theatre beaming, much happier than when I arrived.