Cirque Mother Africa

St James Theatre 2, Wellington

10/09/2010 - 11/09/2010

SKY CITY Theatre, Auckland

14/09/2010 - 24/09/2010

Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch

28/09/2010 - 29/09/2010

Founders Theatre, Hamilton

07/09/2010 - 08/09/2010

Production Details

Cirque MOTHER AFRICA, a spectacular celebration created in Africa by an African, Winston Ruddle, and pounding with the heart of Africa, is coming to New Zealand next month.

It will open at the Founders Theatre, Hamilton, on September 7 and continue its thrilling New Zealand tour with shows in Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch.

Worldwide Cirque MOTHER AFRICA has thrilled two million.

The show is filled with joy, emotions, surprises and amazement. Showing the full circus range of juggling, contortionists, high-wire acts as well as live music, dances and beautiful costumes, the two-hour program really is a sparkling event.

Contortionists Lazaraus and Hassani from Kenya and the Ramadhani Brothers, presenting hand-in hand artistry, are firm favourites with crowds.

The “Adagio Act” from Tanzania is astonishing. It’s a slow, very aesthetical dance where a couple shows slow motion movements by using leverage forces.

“Icarus Games” is the name of a juggling act. Two artists juggle with their colleagues in the air by using their feet. Fast, colourful and swinging, that’s how the program is presented: The “Hoola-Hoop Act” with “a thousand hoops around a beautiful woman’s waist” and the “Diabolo Act”, where the diabolo flies high from one rope to the other.

The “In Africa Band” delivers a traditional sound, played with the “Kora” an instrument that comes from the African West Coast. With its 20 strings it sounds like a mixture between guitar and harp. Three beautiful ladies from South Africa and Zimbabwe are the lead singers, creating a warm and powerful sound together with the In Africa Band.

Cirque MOTHER AFRICA combines the best of all the classic circus elements. Forty artists from the length and breadth of the African continent – Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Benin, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Guinea, South Africa — performing in intoxicating colours and extraordinary costumes and masks.

And doing it all-stops-out for two breathtaking hours.

And it has an unforgettable and unique dimension, something that no other circus can match: the infectious rhythm, the dance and the soaring music of Africa. At the heart of this spectacular circus is pulsating music.

Mark Rafter, the producer of Cirque MOTHER AFRICA, says he saw Cirque MOTHER AFRICA while producing a show in Germany. ‘I wasn’t expecting too much, to be frank, but when I saw the show I loved it! I thought, “It’s a Cirque De Solei with a twist from the heart of Africa.

‘More than quarter of the Cirque MOTHER AFRICAcompany are musicians. They play modern and traditional African instruments – and, yes, we have no vuvuzelas!

‘But we do have the world’s prettiest ‘ring master’. Mtshali Sibongile Prudence, from South Africa is a vivacious dancer and singer with a sparkling sense of humour who informs and entertains the audience when she’s not performing.’

Hamilton – Founders Theatre: September 7 & 8
Wellington – St. James Theatre: September 10 & 11
Auckland – Skycity Theatre: September 14 – 24 m
Christchurch – Isaac Theatre Royal: September 28 & 29
Tickets on sale now: 

Prepare to be happily freaked out

Review by Jacqueline Smith 17th Sep 2010

Extraordinary performers produce some hair-raising moments   

Well, they certainly got their timing spot on – Aucklanders are soggy to their bones at the moment.  But the beaming smiles, cheery bongos and helzapoppin dancing of these crazy African performers took the audience to their hot, sunny and dry mother continent for a few hours – or at least to one of her casinos.

The cheeky host did warn the audience to get ready to “freak out”. And freak out they did when the contortionist, said to be the most flexible man in the world, turned himself inside out. [More]
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


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Unstoppable energy and sheer exuberance needs editing and better technical support

Review by Kate Ward-Smythe 16th Sep 2010

The unique appeal of Winston Riddle’s Circus of Sensuality MOTHER AFRICA lies in the wild, raw exuberance of his 40-strong multi-talented cast of dancers, singers, musicians, contortionists and other colourful characters. Sourced from nine African Nations, they fill the stage and openly share their infectious warmth and unifying happiness.

However, I left disappointed that these incredible artists – individually and collectively – were not better supported by a more refined approach to technical and creative direction.

I note from the back page of the programme, that Winston Riddle not only conceived the idea and the production, he is also the director; show choreographer; act choreographer; responsible for props and collection (choice?) of music.

This epic, colourful, fun African showcase would benefit from an objective outside eye, to fine tune and trim the abundance of magic. Mother Africa needs a good edit. First, on a creative level, half the acts drag on too long, missing their obvious end, while others labour under miss-placed pap, such as the long speech before the gumboot dance. Secondly, there is a disconnect between the show’s strongest market-appeal – kids & families – and it’s duration: 2 ¾ hours is too long for a family show.

On saying that, the second night audience was enormously appreciative, and the interaction with the crowd throughout the night was met with enthusiasm and hearty applause, especially from kids. (Some parents, however, made the decision to leave early as their little ones faded during the never-ending finale and bow sequence.) 

While Mother Africa lacks a tight structure, within the show are a series of stand out circus and musical acts.

First, the interplay between flute player (an incredible artist who manages to play, sing and ‘exclaim’ simultaneously) and a contortionist couple, is wonderful to watch and listen to, as the player gives a voice to the couple’s effort and flexibility.

This dynamic interplay between musician and performers is again highlighted when a tapping duo mimic the rhythms of a percussionist armed with nothing but the wooden box he’s sitting on; and again when an amazing African instrument – the kora,which looks like an sitar and sounds like a harpsichord – accompanies a stunning solo male contortionist. As the on-stage band joins in, the wash of music is indicative of Johnny Clegg & Savuka or Paul Simon’s African collaborations on Gracelands. 

Each contortionist act delivers their own spin on this typically Asian art form. It is warm and engaging as well as impressive. A notable point of difference in the African approach seems to be a healthy and enjoyable injection of humour, expression and personality.

Other stand out acts include the female jugglers from Ethiopia who spin all sorts of household items including tables; the vocal ‘cut’ of the female singers especially when they sing a cappella; the wild company dances incorporating percussion and thrilling Xena-like cries; the engaging gumboot slap dance; the two slippery snake contortionists; the young 12 year old tumbler; and the overall organic warmth and open expressions of everyone in the cast.

Finally, the two audience members brought up on stage by the whistling clown, who uses the language of rhythm to communicate, add a true highlight; the wee boy was a star.

But looking at the show as a whole: as mentioned, I felt the cast were unsupported by technical and creative decisions, which lack grace and inspiration.

The set, such as it was, is essentially tacky saggy drapes of an African safari, and one-dimensional cut-outs of Africa animals. Both look simplistic and generic.

Similarly, the cyc screen images left me uninspired, as they didn’t complement the magic of the cast’s performances. Perhaps if the images had been inventive rather than broad (waves, clouds, fire, sun, map of Africa etc…) they might have served the performance better.

In terms of lighting, I quickly tired of moving lights shining up and over us at the end of each act – as my young daughter said, “Why do the lights keep coming on and flashing in our faces? They hurt my eyes”. In general, the overuse of moving lights over static states competes for our attention rather than drawing our focus to each act.

Finally, in terms of audio design, I don’t think there was any. The band was blisteringly loud, yet the wall of sound that hit my ears was devoid of clarity, EQ and blend. The drum kit sounded completely rough and uneven, plus the rhythm section were often out of synch with each other, as if no one could hear what the other was playing. Such a shame, as they were obviously very fine musicians. Perhaps splitting the band down the middle to allow for a 3-metre centre stage entrance is not a good idea if an on-stage monitor mix has not been designed.

Mother Africa is at its best when the unstoppable energy and sheer exuberance of Africa’s soul is allowed to sing and dance, unfettered by clumsy technical and modern intervention.


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Spectacle with a message

Review by John Smythe 12th Sep 2010

Billed on this tour as Cirque Mother Africa, the programme calls it Winston Ruddle’s Circus of Sensuality: Mother Africa, which describes it better.
There is no aerial work in this show; it is song, dance, acrobatics, feats of strength, contortion and juggling – with all manner of objects and bodies – all packaged in African sensuality, which is lively, joyful, pumping with energy and happily devoid of vamp, camp or sleaze.

The 38 artists and musicians are from all over the African continent – Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Benin, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Guinea, South Africa – while elements of the circus acts and music are ancient and modern, and globally derived.

More MC than ringmaster, the vivacious Mtshali Sibongile Prudence is insistent – even before she enters and makes eye contact with us – in her demands for loud audience proof that we are “ready to rumble!!!” Personally I feel manipulating us to be mindless noise machines out of politeness diminishes the value of our true responses to the actual performances.

Yes, we have no vuvuzelas!” the media release proudly proclaims. Drums predominate in a musical line-up that includes an electronic keyboard, electric guitars, saxophones, a trumpet and the distinctive tones and rhythms of African voices. As with the music, the dancing genres and moves are sourced from all around Africa and vamped up for commercial stage performance. And the dances involve an athleticism that is astonishing in itself, while their delight in doing it is infectious.

But the main events are the circus acts.

An acrobatic dancing couple, introduced by a beautiful solo flute, is followed by a trio of women who spin, tumble and toss large urns then tables with their feet. Two tap-dancing men blend African rhythms and Harlem street-dancing moves with the skills of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly before one accepts the MC’s challenge to drink a glass of Coke, upturned on a saucer, with only one hand.   

We gasp at when Ersie Tearne Gebregziabher (from Ethiopia) places one leg, vertically behind his head, while balancing on the other, and that is just the start of his virtuoso solo forward contortionist routine. Having threaded his contorted person through a tennis racquet frame, he exits like a wacky little wind-up waddling toy. Extraordinary. 

Also from Ethiopia, Kashay Mebrahuta Romha’s artistry with a diabolo exceeds any I’ve seen before. A team of all-dancing, -tumbling, -balancing and -contorting acrobats bring the first half to a lively and powerful close.

Circus acts in the second half include board on roller balancing while rope-skipping then juggling hoops; some astonishing work on a board bridging oil drums which also involves comic business with a stilt walker who is floored and, incredibly, rises again to his ‘feet’.

The physical strength and balancing – hand-in hand; head on head – of the Ramadhani Brothers’ is followed by a clown act (Kashay again) which bring a child then an adult on stage to attempt drumming, thus showing how much skill it takes to do what initially looked simple.

Backward contortionists Mwangi Lazaraus Gitu and Hassani Hassani Mohammed (from Kenya) defy the laws of human physiology with their reptilian moves, then a father and son combo (I can’t pick them from the programme photos) build on one of the earlier acts by having the boy (about 8?) take the place of the urns and tables – i.e. he is the one tossed, spun and twirled on his father’s feet: the most heart-in-mouth routine I’ve ever witnessed without a trapeze being involved. They top their act with the boy setting out to break a record by being flipped 25 times – and they stop at 30!  

The spectacular acts themselves don’t cohere around any particular poetic theme, in the tradition of modern circus, but the whole show is imbued with a positive message for African unity. What better purpose to put the arts of song, dance and circus to!
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


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