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Monday, October 14, 2013

Spin Doctors

by Susan Yung

Photo: Mario del Curto

Zimmermann & de Perrot dream up ridiculous situations that act as comedic crucibles in which quirky performers communicate through action. In Hans was Heiri, at the BAM Harvey from Oct 23—26, a four-room apartment building suddenly starts tumbling like a dryer. What to do? If you’re one of five who perform with Swiss directors Martin Zimmermann (choreographer) and Dimitri de Perrot (composer), you go with the flow, wholeheartedly embracing the chaos and conjuring felicitous art. As you fall through doorways into adjoining units, you become chummy with your neighbors—an intriguing rubber-limbed bunch that, stripped to underwear, attempts a yoga class in the tumbling edifice.

The artists discussed the importance of the set in the development and rehearsal process. “Since we work without language, the stage settings are a key element in the stories we want to tell,” said Zimmermann & de Perrot recently by email. “First we have to create a world into which we then introduce our dancers and actors. They interact directly and physically with this world, they need to confront it again and again until they grow accustomed to it and internalize it.” This is perhaps nowhere more evident than in a scene featuring Mélissa Von Vépy, an elegant woman in floral leggings and pumps who hangs from a corner rod as the building rotates, causing her to dangle dangerously, like ballet’s Don Quixote caught on the bladetip of a windmill.

Photo: Mario del Curto
That’s not to say that everything proceeds smoothly. “We rehearse for a long time and have to overcome phases during which we reject this self-designed space because we feel restricted by it,” said the artists. “The spatial limitation is also very important for our work. It enables us to get a better grip on the characters and to portray them more clearly. We play with all the possibilities, limits and restrictions, and this gives our characters an increasingly distinct profile.”

De Perrot spins the hypnotic sound score live on the side of the stage, and Zimmermann, a human Gumby with a soulful visage, leads the antics onstage. The cast includes two graduates of the Ecole de Cirque de Rosny-sous-Bois and the Centre National des Arts du Cirque (CNAC), Dimitri Jourde and Gaël Santisteva; Methinee Wongtrakoon, who trained in the circus arts and specializes in a combination of contortionism, acrobatics, and dance; Tarek Halaby, an American who danced with Miguel Gutierrez and studied at PARTS in Belgium; and Von Vépy, who trained at CNAC and is known for her own “théâtre vertical” productions.

Hans was Heiri was developed over the course of about eight months. And although the hilarious, deceptively daring movements may seem spontaneously generated, in reality little is left to chance. “Step by step, we are building material and then sequences that finally lead to very precise choreography,” the duo noted. “We provide them a personalized guidance, direction, and coaching over the weeks, so that each of them can finally embrace their role and make it their own.”

In Gaff Aff, a 2010 performance by the pair at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York, nesting, revolving circular platforms formed the stage. De Perrot spun music on an adjacent surface, which wittily transformed into the giant swing arm of a massive turntable. Even as the discs rotated in opposite ways, Zimmermann, in a salaryman suit with a briefcase, alternately and hilariously fought and worked with the motion as he navigated sundry obstacles and tasks. Both Gaff Aff and Hans was Heiri could be parables for man’s unrelenting struggle against natural forces, in situations beyond control.

The set designs in Zimmermann & de Perrot’s works may be intricately designed, but they also make extensive use of quotidian materials that are relatable—plywood, cardboard, chairs, doors. So while their escapades are fanciful and in defiance of physics, the overall impression is not beyond the reach of our imagination. “Our stage designs tend to be more abstract than concrete,” the artists noted. “They reflect the relationship between our dreams and reality.” That would be the rarified space which we are lucky to observe.

Reprinted from Sept 2013

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