MEDHI RIOS (9/6/1945-19/8/2011)
Mehdi Rios, who died on August 19 aged 66, was a circus performer for nearly four decades, and with his brother Michel was regarded as the greatest exponent of the acrobatic art known as the Icarian Games.
Mehdi (above left, with Michel ) and right (Mehdi aloft) the pair in action
6:50PM BST 02 Sep 2011
The Icarian Games is a two-man act thought to have been performed at Philp Astley's circus in London as early as 1777. The bearer lies in a "trinka" cradle, and propels with his feet a partner in a series of gymnastic leaps and bounds.
The act is both strenuous on the legs of the bearer and even more telling on the back of the "voltigeur"; when performed with grace and elegance, however, it can be one of the most attractive circus or vaudeville skills.
Mehdi Rios Lahoussine was born on June 9 1945 in Germany to a Moroccan father, Djamaa ben Lahoussine, and a German mother. Michel was his elder by three years. Their father directed a talented team of whirlwind Arabian tumblers and acrobats in leading circuses, and the boys eventually joined this act. When they grew up Michel took German nationality, and Mehdi Moroccan, but both later lived in France.
When Michel was 14 and Mehdi 11, their father – who had already trained them in tumbling – analysed their respective talents and sent them to complete their circus education with the instructor Augusto Lesi at the Gymnase de la Cité du Midi, in France.
While still working with their father's big troupe, the two brothers practised the Icarian Games for years, two or three hours daily, eventually perfecting their own act.
This they premiered at the Cirque d'Hiver-Bouglione in Paris on February 15 1958, performing a miraculous set of 30 somersaults. Mehdi was the only performer in the world who could be projected into the air in a "pirouette-rattrapé" manoeuvre and then land on just one foot.
Before long they had become the leading exponents of their craft, playing in front of huge audiences across Europe. In 1963 and 1964 they were featured at the Moulin Rouge; soon they were stars in New York, at the Radio City Music Hall, delivering four gruelling performances a day, seven days a week. But their principal home was at the Lido in Paris, where they performed for more than 25 years.
It was also at the Lido that Mehdi met his wife to be, a fellow artiste, Iris Toddy, who starred at the cabaret in an ice skating number with her brother, Gunner. The Toddys had started out as child acrobats from Germany, and went on to win the pairs competition at the World Professional Figure Skating Championships at Jaca, Spain, in 1974.
In the mid-1990s, after four decades, the brothers retired from performing and, with their wives, created a successful theatrical production company, Rios Productions. Based in Paris, Rios Productions packaged touring variety shows and revues, in the Lido style, which appeared in nightclubs, casinos and variety theatres all over the world.
After his funeral, a memorial service was held for Mehdi Rios at the Cirque d'Hiver-Bouglione, the setting for the Rios Brothers' debut performance. He is survived by his brother, and by his wife and their daughter, Nathalie, who also became a circus performer.
The Rios Brothers
By Dominique Jando
Michel and Mehdi Rios were born in Germany to a Moroccan father and a German mother. As it is common in many circus families, this didn’t define their citizenship: Although technically Michel and Mehdi are German, their parents settled in Paris, France, shortly after World War II, and the Rios Brothers are generally perceived as French circus artists.
Their father, Djamaa Ben Lahoussine, headed a renowned troupe of Moroccan tumblers, The Rios. He provided his sons with a thorough circus education that included tumbling, tight wire, juggling, and tap dancing. When Michel was 14 and Mehdi was 11, their father carefully analyzed their respective aptitudes, and decided to combine their talents into a risley act, a particularly arduous circus discipline.
While still performing in their father’s acrobatic troupe, Michel and Mehdi practiced daily for five years, until their act was ready. First they worked with their father, then continued their training, at the legendary Gymnase de la Cité du Midi in Paris (where many circus acts were created), under Augusto Lesi—whose teaching methods were particularly grueling. Michel and Mehdi began performing their risley act as the Rios Brothers in 1957, although it took a little longer for it to reach its final format. When that happened, the Rios Brothers had become one the world’s greatest risley acts.
When the Rios Brothers began working as icarists, the most famous risley duet at the time was The Akeffs, an Egyptian act that had enjoyed a brilliant international career, and had set the standards by which other acts of the same type were judged. By the end of the 1960s, the Rios Brothers’s risley act had become the standard of reference—and still today, most risley duets are built on the model set by Michel and Mehdi Rios.
The Rios Brothers made their official debut at Paris’s Cirque d'Hiver-Bouglione, and worked in several major circuses in Europe, including Switzerland’s Circus Knie, but they soon began to appear mostly in nightclubs and variety shows, notably at the Casino de Paris, the Lido, and the Moulin-Rouge in Paris, and the Palladium in London.
They career then took a wider international turn: They appeared in the United States at the Radio City Music-Hall in New York, and the M-G-M Grand and the Stardust Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. They participated in Royal Command Performances for the King of Sweden, and for the Royal Family of England, and performed for Pope John Paul II at the Vatican. They have also been seen on major television shows around the world.
In 1976, the Rios Brothers won the coveted Silver Clown award at the International Circus Festival of Monte-Carlo. They were featured twice at the Big Apple Circus in New York and on tout in the U.S., the first time in Grandma Goes West (1989-90), and the second time in Greetings From Coney Island (1991-92). Their long career as icarists ended soon after this second engagement.
Meanwhile, Michel and Mehdi Rios had created with their wives (Nancy, a former dancer and model, and Iris, a former champion ice-skater, respectively) a very successful production company, Rios Productions. Based in Paris, Rios Productions packaged variety shows and revues that were sold all over the world to nightclubs, casinos, and variety theaters. It had become their main activity, until Mehdi passed away August 19, 2011.
Video: The Rios Brothers in the Big Apple Circus production of Grandma Goes West (1989)
Video: The Rios Brothers in the Big Apple Circus production of Greatings From Coney Island (1991)