Yemeni Circus: Facing Extinction [Archives:1998/34/Last Page]

August 24 1998

The Yemeni Circus Troupe presented its first show on October 14, 1973 at the Armed Forces Theater in Aden. Many wonderful shows followed, which tended to have a lyrical style presenting the years of struggle against colonialism. The ideas for the shows were generated mainly by Awadh Ba-Hakeem and directed by Ali Mohammed Hussain, the person who established the troupe.

The shows relied mainly on body movement and musical sound effects. It was the Yemeni Acrobatic Troupe which was the first to present pantomime drama, which relies almost entirely on rhythmic movements and diversity in acrobatics, dancing, and music. People behind the scenes usually recited a poem or a piece of prose; while, the dancers told the story poem through single and group movements.
The clothing and props used by the troupe were designed by Yemeni specialists. Some members of the troupe were sent to China and Moscow to attend special courses in circus presentations. In 1978, the first 6 Yemenis graduated from China. In 1986, another group of circus players came back to Yemen. They started to improve their repertoires and soon they were able to create 18 different repertoires including acrobatics, magic games, balance games, clowning, and pantomime.

On September 10, 1978, the troupe was officially named the National Acrobatic Troupe, which became very active and popular. In August, 1980, it presented the first complete acrobatic game show which lasted for 90 minutes. Plans and programs were implemented to present shows in different parts of the country.
In 1970, Mr. Ali Mohammed Hussain formed a team of what was destined to be the core of circus actors in Yemen. At the beginning, the team did gymnastics at the Faculty of Education hall. Later many students became attracted to this field. So they were enlisted, trained and given a chance.
Due to expansion, the team’s new center moved to Al-Jala’a Secondary School in Khormaksar. There, for the first time, females joined in the troupe.
In 1973, the Yemeni Circus Team was officially established, comprising 45 players, most of them female. The team consisted of three groups: the musicians, circus players, and singers. Mr. Ali Al-Baihani was the troupe’s instructor. Their repertoire consisted of 11 different spectacular games and magic tricks.
In 1979, the troupe presented 22 shows, and in 1980, it performed 28 shows in various parts of the former PDRY (South Yemen). The players and acrobats wore traditional Yemeni clothes and danced to Yemeni music arranged by Anwar Abdulkhaleq.
Outside the country, the troupe participated in many festivals in Kuwait, Libya, UAE, and Ethiopia. Since they did so well, the Ministry of Culture provided them with some important facilities and insured the lives of the players who were involved in more dangerous games.
The troupe today is not paid much attention. Many of the players left in search of other jobs. Most of the women left the team as they got married or their activities are frowned upon. However, the team is still there, in Aden. But, if the carelessness and ignorance continue, there won’t be any team in the very near future.
By: Mohammed A. Thabet,
Instructor, Yemeni Circus, Aden