The Rios Brothers
By Dominique Jando
Michel (b.1942) and Mehdi (1945-2011) Ben Lahoussine 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 were German, their parents settled in Paris shortly after World War II, and the Rios Brothers are generally perceived as French circus artists.
Their father, Djamaa Ben Lahoussine, headed a well-known troupe of Moroccan tumblers, The Rios. He provided his sons with a thorough circus education that included tumbling, tight wireA tight, light metallic cable, placed between two platforms not very far from the ground, on which a wire dancer perform dance steps, and acrobatic exercises such as somersaults. (Also: Low 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 Rios premiered their risley act at the Cirque d'Hiver-Bouglione in Paris, on February 15 1958, 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.
From The Rios Brothers To Rios Productions
After their debuts at the Cirque d'Hiver, , the Rios Brothersnd went on to work 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 Palladium in London,the Casino de Paris and the Moulin-Rouge in Paris, as well as at the Lido, where they would be featured many times.
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 tour 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 became their main activity, until Mehdi sadly died of cancer on August 19, 2011, at age 66. After Mehdi's funeral, a memorial service was held for him at the Cirque d'Hiver-Bouglione, the setting of the brothers' debuts.
- Michel Rios, L'improbable vie d'un acrobate (Saint-Denis, Société des écrivains, 2018) — ISBN 978-2-342-16481-7
- Video: The Rios Brothers, icarists, at the Cirque d'Hiver in Paris (1966)
- Video: The Rios Brothers, icarists, at the Cirque d'Hiver in Paris (1969)
- 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)