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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Poetry of the Absurd—An Interview with Hallo's Martin Zimmermann

Somewhere between Beckett and Buster Keaton, Martin Zimmermann's Hallocoming to the BAM Harvey Theater on October 15—pits shape-shifting human against animate architecture, teetering on the threshold between collapse and order. One year ago, Gwénola David sat down with Zimmermann to learn more about the broken walls, breached skylights, and sculptural echoes of his creative mind.

Hallo's Martin Zimmermann. Photo: Augustin Rebetez
After 20 years on stage, you are going solo for the first time... Finally?

MARTIN ZIMMERMANN: I’d always wanted to do a solo piece, but it simply never transpired. Until now I’ve most often created in collaboration, mainly with Dimitri de Perrot. But now I’ve reached a point where it has become obvious to create a solo piece in which I’m both the director and actor–even though I knew it wouldn’t be easy and I’d be putting myself out on a limb. For that reason it was–and is–important for me to know that I have a well-versed team I can count on, providing me valuable support and assistance to realize the piece.

You developed a figure for Hallo. Who is it?

MZ: When I observe the people around me, I cannot help but see figures. Every figure fascinates and touches me. Behind every face there’s a multifaceted personality. Depending on the moment, mood and circumstances, we shift from one variation of the self to the next. In Hallo I wanted to try depicting these various facets, playing with them, distorting, accentuating and continually confounding them. It’s essentially impossible to know who you really are. But to me that doesn’t seem to be the central issue. For me it’s more important to be able to come to terms with the different forms of the self, to accept them. 

The stage design for Hallo brings to mind a shop window... a metaphor for self-dramatization?

Photo: Augustin Rebetez
MZ: The body is always a central part of the setting. Without one you could not have the other. I make use of the limitations and pitfalls that arise with a flexible stage set to bring forth the body’s viability in a theatrical space. The collision and interplay between the figure, décor and objects provide foundation for the content of the piece. In Hallo I constantly find myself in uncomfortable situations that I am forced to work my way through and liberate myself, lending the piece a tragicomic note. Using the shop-window-like frame as the setting has to do with my first profession as a window dresser: in the past I displayed products in a favourable light–now I place myself on display.

The showcase evokes thoughts about living in a world of consumption and fashion, but also such topics as “illusion and reality” and the desire for approval, to be seen and noticed. But above all, it gives pause to reflect on such existential questions as: Who do I really see when I look in the mirror? Am I looking at reality? Am I a different person than I think I am?

I have the impression that in your piece you look at how the human being struggles through the absurdities of life day in and day out. Do you find life absurd?

MZ: I have the feeling that I will never completely understand the human being–not even myself. Our entire existence strikes me as absurd. But that’s not to say I perceive it as something negative, and it has nothing to do with resignation. On the contrary: I’m especially attracted to the absurd. It’s a daily source of amusement for me. Precisely therein lie the things I find truly interesting. For instance, in the circus–in and of itself absurd–because somehow or other it’s always about the same thing: survival. That’s poetry for me. This form of art has always fascinated and inspired me. And with this poetry, I try to create my theatre.

How does this poetry come to be?

MZ: The creative phase of a piece lasts between 5 and 8 months. Every creative process is a new adventure. My many years of experience do not shield me from staring at the blank page each time. During my apprenticeship as a decorator and my studies at the circus school, I acquired the tools necessary to be able to make my pieces. But I’ll never understand the creative process, not even after years of experience and success. The process of creating is and will always remain a great mystery to me. While working with the dramaturge Sabine Geistlich, our main concern was not about having a linear dramatization, but much more about taking a look at human existence from the outside, without moralizing or drawing conclusions. It’s an attempt to portray a sketch of a life with a great deal of sensitivity.

Hallo plays the BAM Harvey Theater from October 15—17, and tickets are still available. 

Originally published in Le cirque contemporain en France, Hors série de La Terrasse, October 2014.

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