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7 Sep 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.

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.