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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Martin Zimmermann, hero in a paradoxical world

Photo: Augustin Rebetez
By Thomas Hahn

Martin Zimmermann is that phenomenally pliable mime around whom twist and wind the absurd frescoes and circus disciplines of the Zimmermann & de Perrot duo. After having recently roused the delighted audience to tumultuous applause at the Théâtre de la Ville, the mime with a ballet dancer’s body is already back in Paris with a solo to say "Hallo" at the Théâtre de la Ville – Les Abbesses.

Their last piece remains indelibly fixed in our memory: Hans was Heiri, performed in Théâtre de la Ville in 2012 and again in 2013. Zimmermann has now created his first solo. But what does "solo“ actually mean? Just as in the previous blockbusters, the stage setting here does not simply serve as decoration, but rather takes part as a full-fledged actor. In constant motion, it is an ally of the director, but a formidable adversary for the figure.

In Hans was Heiri a house turned as if it were a windmill. In Hallo—coming to the BAM Harvey Theater this Thursday, October 15—we encounter a somewhat unworldly man who is at odds with his ultracontemporary flat. Its walls incessantly fold on him, as if trying to squash him. But the spindly oddball, wearing an awfully large pairs of shorts over his neoprene trousers, always manages to find a way out. And when his house completely collapses? Then it serves as a piece of circus equipment!

Martin Zimmermann. Photo: Augustin Rebetez

Zimmermann demonstrates that the burlesque mime figure still has its place in today’s world, precisely because it embodies a distraught being incapable of finding his place; alas, like so many of our contemporaries. And it is nice to be able to laugh at what afflicts us. Herein lies the significance of the clown. Zimmermann extracts the best of Marcel Marceau, Jacques Tati, Buster Keaton, if not Charlie Chaplin, fuses it and places it smack in the middle of a topical context. He knows how to distort his facial features as well as his limbs in equal measure. He morphs from the figure of a sneaky rascal à la Lucky Luke to a deckhand or a homeless person, and yet always remains the same.

He plays with illusions from time immemorial, yet they come across as refreshing as on the first day. Why? No doubt because his figure strikes a chord to such an extent with us that we forget everything else. We are just as surprised and startled as he himself when his facial bones begin to clatter, when his head appears to fall all of a sudden into his lap, when it looks as if his fingers are jumping from one hand to the other. At the same time, now as the mischievous accomplice, he can laugh at his own tricks and win us over to his side. And to such a degree that we laugh with him at his fears and fantasies, which are indeed also ours.

It ends with a broad grin spreading across the face, even though Zimmermann has in actual fact personified many a rather traumatic fantasy. His body, his alter ego, his reflection in the mirror, they have all burst asunder and wander about the stage in separate parts on the stage. They topple into the trapdoors or call out "Hallo“ to him as if wanting to play him for a fool. Has he not literally "lost his mind" a few times? Zimmermann probes deeply here, to the very depths of his own self and his universe, elevating this distillate of his art beyond anything one could call dance, mime, a clown or circus.

Hallo torques the BAM Harvey Theater from Thursday, October 15—Saturday, October 17.

Reprinted from Artistic Rezo, April 2015, with permission.

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