Dance London International Mime Festival
Time Out, 1998
January 7-14 1998

Mime's the word
Featuring everything from Russian mystics to ghosts pissing in pots, the twentieth London International Festival of Mime is
as weird as it is wonderful. Report Donald Hutera
about the M-word and all the performing arts it incorporates: circus, clowning, dance, puppetry, animation, sculpture - basically anything that falls under the banner of physical and visual theatre. During the two weeks of this year's festival - smaller but more focused, Seelig says, than in previous years -16 or so theatrical events, plus workshops and seminars, will be spread across nearly a dozen London venues.
The cult 'anti-clown' company Derevo (Russian for 'tree') kicks things off, transplanting its dark, butoh-inspired Edinburgh Fringe hit, The Red Zone', to the South Bank. The five wiry, shaven-headed members of this ten-year-old troupe are the products of a rigorous training devised by founder and artistic director Anton Adassinsky. Formerly a pupil and colleague of Slava ('Snowshow') Polunin, as well as part of the avant-garde rock group Avia, the raw-boned Adassinsky is himself a gifted clown with a mystic's faith in the power and truth of his art. Derevo's hour-long performance - non-linear, sometimes grotesquely funny, apocalyptically menacing and metaphysical - is drawn, he says, from the cast's 'really private feelings, and what as Russian people means for us freedoms, army, discipline, happiness. We have no actors here. People don't play in "Red Zone"; they exist. '
If you prefer purity of purpose in a lighter vein, consider Belgium's Circus Ronaldo, also at the South Bank. For six generations, the van den Broeck family (Ronaldo is a made-up name) have toured their commedia dell'arte-influenced tent show to towns and villages in romantically old-style gypsy trailers. In a UK debut, Ronaldo brings its intimate brand of big top human comedy indoors to the Queen Elizabeth Hall.
Pegged on a sly yet warm recognition of the fool in all of us, this full-length performance is at the opposite end of the spectrum from stadium-sized, Cirque du Soleil-style spectacle. There are juggling and balancing routines, a paganistic procession, an on-stage dinner, live music, and no animals. The last item is important to Danny van den Broeck, at 28 the head of the organisation. 'Circus is a different world, ' he says. 'When you go in a tent you have to feel freedom. That's not possible when you see animals in cages. '
Among the festival's British contingent, Scarlet Theatre will try to demystify gallery-going in Whitechapel, Told By an Idiot uses half-masks to reinvent Moliere in Battersea, and in Deptford, underground clown Paka literally stops the clock in a multimedia vaudeville called The Singularity' (a title referring to the point of infinite smallness at the centre of a black hole).
One of the most extraordinary festival adventures is the 'still-life drama' pervading every cubby, corner and closet of a carefully restored, candle-lit town house tucked away at 18 Folgate Street, Spitalfields. Dennis Severs, the gracious American owner, invites guests into his home to 'put flesh on the bones of the past'. This is no heritage-museum approximation of an earlier era. In an act of delicate but definite magic, we are asked to imagine that a figmentary eighteenth-and nineteenth-century family vacated the premises moments before our arrival. We then explore the house - littered with furnishings, food, sounds and smells - in silence. Overflowing with detail (a black moggy curls up in the middle of that four-poster, and I bet the piss in that chamber pot is authentic), this eerie, enchanting experience is like no other history lesson you've ever had. • The London International Mime Festival runs January 10-25. For details ring 0171 6375661 and see Theatre and Dance listings.
One of the first shows in this year's London International Mime Festival, 'Average White Girl' finds circus/ cabaret performer Kirsty Little using trapeze, stilts, film, fire, soundscape, bungee cord and, with any luck, a dead pig (real or fake) to evoke the search for identity from a female perspective. How, Little wonders, is she supposed to identify her work? 'If I call it physical theatre, ' she moans, 'people are confused. If I say it's circus, they go, "Oh, elephants!" That's a simplistic and childish understanding of how I use circus skills to portray my ideas. '
So why not dub it mime? Traditionally, says Told By an Idiot's John Wright, 'Mime is a genre where gesture replaces word. ' To that end, the
century's most celebrated (to the point of cliche) mime practitioner remains Marcel Marceau. But for contemporary, genre-straddling performers like Little - and virtually anybody else rounded up each January by Mime Festival co-directors Helen Lannaghan and Joseph Seelig -the speechless Frenchman's fame is a curse.
In a struggle for freedom from the white-faced tweedom represented by Marceau, the new mime modernists adapt, blend, and expand the mime label as they see fit. In 1998, mime doesn't just move. It talks, it shouts, rattling the bars of its aesthetic cage, boldly breaking out to cross borders and up-end theatrical conventions.
Once again, the festival, now in its twentieth year, will help batter down preconceptions
Circus Ronaldo:"Fools for fire"
Derevo: 'anti-clowns'trip in 'The Red Zone'
Highlights of the 1998
Mime Festival include
Circus Ronaldo: fools
for fire (left); Derevo:
'anti-clowns'trip in
'The Red Zone'(right);
Kirsty Little plus pigs: just hanging around with your 'Average White Girl'(bottom)
(sorry, no image for BDSM-lovers)
To the beginning...