Mimes 'Move On' at French Festival The great Marcel Marceau is still performing his classic routines, but the art of mime has changed radically over the years. There's no better place to see it than at the International Mime Festival in Perigueux, France.

Mimes 'Move On' at French Festival

Mimes 'Move On' at French Festival

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The great Marcel Marceau is still performing his classic routines, but the art of mime has changed radically over the years. There's no better place to see it than at the International Mime Festival in Perigueux, France.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Hear this? No, you can't because I'm doing some mime. Now you don't hear much mime on the radio and for good reason, 'cause it's silent performance. Many Americans of a certain age may have first experienced mime or, as the French say, `meem,' watching the great Marcel Marceau on the old "Ed Sullivan Show." Marcel Marceau is still performing classic mime in his 80s, but the art has changed. And as Frank Browning reports, there's no better place, then, to see this than at the International Mime Festival in Perigueux, France.

(Soundbite of music)


There's nothing silent in Karina Hollet's(ph) showcase presentation, "Falton."(ph) Three old men--one bald, one fat, one gray, barefoot, wearing white T-shirts and black suits--sit grim at a table awaiting the end. One picks up a long sailor's rope and begins to pull at it, laying it out in a circle. Then the three march fatalistically around its perimeter.

(Soundbite of music)

BROWNING: A voluptuous young woman enters. Gliding on arched feet, she may be real. She may be a puppet.

Ms. KARINA HOLLET (Creator, Director, "Falton"): This woman, she is like a bomb in their life.

BROWNING: Karina Hollet created and directed the show.

Ms. HOLLET: They start to run, they're afraid. They try to make contact with her and in a way, she changes their world.

BROWNING: Not least by touching them in ways that they never imagined their sagging flesh would be touched again, which gets to the theme and premise of this year's festival: being touched. How are we changed by being touched physically, skin to skin and within, soul to soul? Allah(ph), who is Dutch, pushes mime toward sound. Her performers speak, though the language is of small importance--sometimes Dutch, sometimes German, sometimes French--as when the three old men regress before their puppet woman and become school children, reciting their times tables before a stern teacher, like, (talking in squeaky voice) `one and one is one, one and two is two, one is three'--and she calls, `Still. Silence, bitte.'

BROWNING: Karina Hollet doesn't call her work mime. She prefers physical theater focusing on the force of the body, realizing that words are only body sounds.

Ms. HOLLET: Like, use your whole voice, like very low, and then very higher, high up, high up, high up. So that use your voice like music, music to the movement of your body. I believe very much in the language of the body, but also the voice can be the instrument out of the body so that you, in a way, can feel what you are saying. So even if I talk in Japanese that you still feel what I mean, and it's my hope for communication in the whole world actually.

BROWNING: This year's mime festival, called Mimos 23 for its 23rd year, started out as a meditation on physical handicaps, but it grew into a larger inquiry into how bodies engage with the world. Etienne Bonduelle is Mimos' artistic director.

Mr. ETIENNE BONDUELLE (Mimos' Artistic Director): Bodies search by violence, war and terrorism. And the body is the center of the last part of life. That's everyone we have. This is the last part of life.

BROWNING: Mimes today, Bonduelle says, pay tribute to great icons like Marcel Marceau, but they've moved on.

Mr. BONDUELLE: In France, Marcel Marceau is old-fashioned. Mimos is a new image of mime.

BROWNING: Several Mimos artists raise questions about what is alive and what is an object. Eulich Myre(ph) reclines in an aluminum chair, or tries to until the chair starts acting up. It jiggles, it tosses her out. She crawls back in, it folds her up. They dance, it ends with a Schubert Lieder song about love and longing.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) I heard her voice ...(unintelligible) beside her.

BROWNING: Inspired by German philosopher Wilhelm Flosser, Eulich Myre looks at how we experience ordinary objects--beds, chairs, tables.

Ms. MYRE: He was asking a lot this question: where we live, for what is habitation about, like, home is a fiction we create out of the need to belong. And home is a place where very few people have been to in her life, so my work questions that.

BROWNING: Myre, who calls herself a puppeteer, dismisses the old definitions of mime.

Ms. MYRE: And say this is mime, this is dance, this is puppeteer work, this is theater work, and I think the frontiers are being more and more transparent. So I couldn't say if this is a puppeteer work, which I wanted you to say. I mean, what did you see?

BROWNING: For the first week of August, this old river town in southwest France itself becomes a stage for physical artists from all over the world--Kenya, Australia, Germany, Mexico, France, of course, and sometimes the US. Late in the day, three Austrians, wearing blond wigs and black Beatles-era jackets, march onto a plaza carrying a Plexiglas coffin, playing music boxes. They call their work The Silence of Emptiness. It's a Dadaist piece about being touched by death and failure and letting go. Two of the men, Franz Unger and Tom Zavo(ph), speak about death and mime.

Unidentified Man #1: You can see it's as a sad thing to talk about death. You can also see it as to get more free, you know. So for some people, they are afraid to talk about death; and other people get more free to think about death.

Unidentified Man #2: As we work as mimes, so death is also important for life and life for death.

(Soundbite of singing)

Unidentified Men: (Singing in unison) It's a wonderful, wonderful life. It's a...

BROWNING: For National Public Radio, I'm Frank Browning at the 23rd annual Festival of Mime in Perigueux, France.

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