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Flash Review, 9-5: Engaged
At Mimos, Marceau steals the show and Trigance carries on the legacy

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2008 Paul Ben-Itzak

PERIGUEUX (Dordogne), France -- The body has an amazing capacity for transcending polemics. In Bip as a Soldier, one of the 13 short films featured in John Barnes's 1975 documentary "The Art of Silence," Marcel Marceau tells the story of war without uttering a word. As always, his arms, whether comforting a comrade, embracing a lover before his infantry-man goes off to the front, or trying to create a protective cocoon as the bombs begin to drop encompass a story and enfold his audience. There's a bit of a soundtrack, sure -- of marching troops, for example (Marceau plays the marching neutrally) -- but it's really extraneous.

Marcel Marceau photographed at the 1984 Mimos festival by Maurice Melliet. Photo ©Maurice Melliet and courtesy Mimos.

Marceau, who passed last fall, was the honoree of this year's International Mime Festival or Mimos, which featured 17 companies from around the world, plus 25 more in the Mim'Off festival performed in the parks, cobble-stoned streets, nooks and crannies of the medieval village and elsewhere in this city in the heart of the country's fertile Dordogne department. It's an area known more for foie gras, truffles, pre-historic finds including cave paintings, walnuts and Bergerac wine, but anyone making the tour should definitely make this annual event part of their itinerary.

The festival was founded 26 years ago in Perigueux, situated on the banks of the Isle River, a tributary of the mighty Dordogne, in part because Marceau spent some of his youth in the area. This year's edition included an homage to the father of modern mime, "L'enfant du Paradis," by some of his former colleagues. So I started my program -- for logistical reasons, I was only able to catch two live shows and part of another (I ran off when they started screaming), one in the Off -- with a screening of several of the Bip sections from Barnes's documentary, produced by the Encyclopedia Britannica. An extra pleasure is that each of the 13 segments are introduced by Marceau himself, sans make-up, exuding a unique tenderness and intelligence. There were grand canvasses like Bip as a Soldier, but also one extraordinary lyrical segment focusing just on his long-fingered hands.

The Ash Physical Theater had the misfortune of being seen and considered by me, Friday August 1 at the Centre Culturel de la Visitation, right after I caught Marceau on film (in a free showing, with Marceau's children in attendance) at the Cap Cinemas. While it wouldn't be fair to compare the company to Marceau on a performance level, I think it's just to ask: How is a show in which the players frequently and loudly speak, if not shriek -- albeit usually in gibberish -- mime? When did mime become miked?

Conceived, directed, and designed by Atsutoshi Hatamoto, "Vous n'etes pas tout seuls" (You are note alone) theoretically depicts the world swimming around a fisherman. Billed as mime, theatre d'objets and marionettes, it's a jack of all trades and master of none. The marionette action, consisting of a droning frog -- Kermit is no doubt burying his green head in his armpit in shame -- and a scary mutant which provokes screams from the human performers whenever its head juts out of the compact set (a sort of box structure with various doors and mounted by stairs) is particularly embarrassing in a country which rightly prides itself as a seat of this art. The er, mime, is enthusiastically and engagingly enacted by Hatamoto, Shinya Yamamoto, and especially Gabriel Agosti (more restrained than his frequently spastic colleagues), but in the context of an international mime festival -- performed this year in homage to the master himself -- it's just too, well, loud. (Not to mention that, putatively set in a fisherman's world, it betrays a one-dimensional city boy's idea of this noble and serious milieu. I kept thinking how embarrassed I'd be to bring my fishing tutors, Bernard and Stephan, who have taken me on a real fishing expedition, to this spectacle on the argument that it's about fishing.)

Rife with declaiming, Compagnie Theatre du Reel, the beginning of whose spectacle I caught the next day as part of the Off, seemed not to know it was performing at a mime festival.

The day, my all too brief sampling of this major event, and most of all mime pride was saved by Hadrien Trigance, presenting "L'Homme sans memoire" (The man without memory) in the name of the Compagnie Di Li Line in a cozy medieval cloister surrounded by trees and a hushed audience with a strong youth contingent.

The postcard for Compagnie Di Li Line's "L'Homme sans memoire," created and performed by Hadrien Trigance. Photo courtesy Hadrien Trigance.

Trigance's brief but elegant and potent traverse -- it lasts all of 20 minutes I think -- starts with his character, in white face, white tank top, and black pants arriving in the performance hole at the center of the crowd and then searching for the one with whom he has a rendez-vous -- in expectant anticipation but also with increasing anxiety as she fails to materialize. He thinks he sees her, waves excitedly -- almost dancing on his tip-toes as he does so -- then droops in disappointment. It ends in a sad waltz -- perhaps with a memory of a past companion rather than a real-time reunion. There's a valise which is central, too -- supposed to contain souvenirs of childhood -- but when I look at the postcard for the show, in which Trigance hangs on to the suitcase like he's holding on to his history as if without it he has nothing, it has a different effect on me. Perhaps I'm projecting here as I'm currently in the process of looking for a new home in a new city and am as much intimidated as comforted by my own possessions. They confirm my identity, that I have a past, a history; could I really start anew without them and if I did, would I register? But this man without memory, the one on the postcard, almost seems to me a man trapped by his memory, inevitably as elusive as the butterfly Trigance at one point chases through the trees surrounding the performance space, his eloquent hands trying to cup themselves around it. (Also like Marceau, his mobile, expressive eyes help tell the story.) If I seem to be ducking a serious intellectual engagement with what is apparently a serious intellectual undertaking, it's because what stood out for me here was the performer's, and the subject's serious engagement and enveloping of the audience. (So different from the self-absorbed, self-referencing, and ultimately irrelevant shows I was used to seeing in Paris from most of Trigance's under-40 contemporaries working in modern dance.) This -- and creating a universe using simply the body, sans vocalized narrative -- is what Marceau was about, and Trigance is one of his children. (To get an idea of what I mean, go to his website, where you'll see not only images of "L'Homme sans memorie" -- in performance at the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris -- but get a good idea of how he captures the audience, particularly children.)

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