Mesmerized by acrobatic feats of virtuosity, strength and daring, Minnetonka second-grader Abigail VanBenschoten could barely contain her reactions at "Tulu," the Circus Abyssinia show that runs through Oct. 23 at Children's Theatre Company.
As she watched the performance on Friday, the 7-year-old clasped her hand over her mouth, trying to hold in her awe as contortionists Semeret Getachew Bekana and Etsegenet Ashenafi Laglao twisted their bodies into mysterious shapes, bending like marine creatures unconstrained by ribs or spine.
Abigail gasped when a quintet of young men dived through Olympic rings animated by flames. And she flat out screamed as acrobats flew off the Russian swing and high into theater's ceiling, somersaulting before landing on a safety mattress.
"It's amazing," she said afterward.
Youngsters are not the only ones who will be captivated by the primal joys of "Tulu," the sophomore show of London- and Ethiopia-based Circus Abyssinia. Written and directed by Binyam "Bichu" Shimellis and produced with his brother Mehari "Bibi" Tesfamariam, the show uses wordless circus acts to celebrate Olympic medalist Derartu Tulu, the Ethiopian distance runner who won gold in 1992.
"Tulu" telescopes her life from rural living when she escapes hyenas (contortionists Bekana and Laglao walking on all fours in striped formfitting costumes) through other challenges to Olympic glory. A crew of young women represent the heroine.
A modern circus that feels like an intimate, scaled-down version of Cirque du Soleil, "Tulu" offers a cascade of visceral thrills. Some of that enjoyment arises from the perceived risks in the acts. In one roller-skating number, Betelhem Djene Tola spins Befekadu Esmael Awol around in an ever-tightening circle. The rapidity of the resolution makes the act resemble something from the world of ice skating. There's real danger there and at least one theatergoer was relieved Friday that the act resolved safely.
"Tulu" is infused with Ethiopian music and culture. Dance, choreographed by Shimellis and Tamrat Ejeta, is used as a segue between acts in a show that also boasts bits of physical humor. Tesfamariam and Shimellis juggle firelit pins effortlessly.
The reason "Tulu" is a winner is that the challenging acts are executed by a raft of virtuosic performers. One of them is Daniel Amera Seid, who is built like a Greek god, except he's Ethiopian, and is flawless in his aerialist routine. He shows such power and control and makes it look so easy, as he rises on strings into the ceiling, even a girthy middle-age theatergoer might believe, for a flash, that he could do that. But perish that thought.
Seid also draws oohs and aahs for his handstand, balancing with panache and strength in a show that shows growth. When Circus Abyssinia brought its debut effort, "Ethiopian Dreams," to the Twin Cities in 2019, there was curiosity about the first circus company to emerge from East Africa.
But with "Tulu," the outfit continues to build its repertoire and reputation, showing that it's more than a curio. "Tulu" is a captivating delight.
Where: Children's Theatre Company, 2400 3rd Av. S., Mpls.
When: 7 p.m. Thu.-Fri., 11 a.m. & 2 p.m. Sat., 2 & 5 p.m. Sun. Ends Oct. 23.
Tickets: $15-$80. 612-874-0400 or childrenstheatre.org.