follow us in feedly
Before there was Blue Man Group, there was Mummenschanz
11.25.2013
08:12 am

Topics:
Art

Tags:
Mime
Switzerland
Swiss
Mummenschanz
Avant-Garde

Mummenschanz
 
Mummenschanz are one of those artistic movements that frustrate me with their peerlessness; they’re both difficult to describe and woefully under-appreciated outside of artsy circles and/or their native Switzerland. Founded in 1972, The Mummenschanz Mask Theater was the baby of Bernie Schürch, Andres Bossard, and Italian American Floriana Frassetto. Each member had some of level classical training, and together they possessed a collective resume including writing, acrobatics, dance, acting, and mime. Immediately delving into high-concept performances with ingenious abstract props, the group chose “Mummenschanz,” a German word for pantomime as their moniker.
 

 
By 1973, Mummenschanz were touring the USA, Canada, and South America. In 1976, they performed on The Muppet Show (you can see one of their segments above), and from 1977 to 1980, performed a three year run on Broadway that clocked in at 1,326 performances. Though the line-up has changed, (Andres Bossard passed in 1992 due to complications from AIDS, and Bernie Schürch gave his last performance in 2012), Mummenschanz has never stopped performing or writing new material. Now they give workshops, open to amateurs, pros, hobbyists, and even children. Describing these workshops, their website enthusiastically declares, “There is movement, there is dance, there is laughter – loads of. There may sometimes be sounds of crying, but they are tears of joy.”

And that is what’s great about Mummenschanz: there is absolutely no trace of pretension in their work or artistic philosophy. They’re just weird, brilliant people doing strange and wonderful things, and they want everyone to enjoy it with them. Below is a 1974 feature on Swiss TV. The beginning shows some of their more elaborate props, and at the end you can see the same clay mask routine from The Muppet Show, but with an entirely different audience reception and tone; it’s like watching a completely separate performance.  I dare you not to be impressed.
 

 

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
David Bowie: Extracts from his first TV drama ‘The Looking Glass Murders’

pitotlgmdblk.jpg
 
When his debut album flopped in 1967, David Bowie thought his pop career was over. The years of practice and ambition had sadly delivered nothing but the indifference of the public (who preferred The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s) and the bewilderment of critics, who could not quite understand this young singer (who sounded like Anthony Newley) and delivered such diverse and original songs. Bowie had discovered the width of his talent, but not its depth. Understandably, disheartened, Bowie considered packing it all in and becoming a Buddhist monk at the Samye Ling Monastery in Scotland, but fate played a hand and he soon found himself under the influence of a charismatic fan - the brilliant dancer, performer and choreographer Lindsay Kemp.

Kemp loved Bowie’s first album, and used one its tracks “When I Live My Dream” for one of his shows. Kemp offered Bowie a new career - as dancer, actor and member of Kemp’s dance troupe

On 28 December 1967, David Bowie made his theatrical debut in Kemp’s mime Pierrot in Turquoise or, The Looking Glass Murders at the New Theater in Oxford. Bowie wrote and performed the music, and co-starred as Cloud, alongside Kemp’s Pierrot, Jack Birkett’s Harlequin, and Annie Stainer’s Columbine.

The production was still in rehearsal when it played for its one night at the New Theater, which perhaps explains why the Oxford Mail described the show as “something of a pot-pourri,” though it highlighted Bowie’s contribution for praise:

David Bowie has composed some haunting songs, which he sings in a superb, dreamlike voice. But beguilingly as he plays Cloud, and vigorously as Jack Birkett mimes Harlequin, the pantomime isn’t a completely satisfactory framework for some of the items from his repertoire that Mr Kemp, who plays Pierrot, chooses to present….

...No doubt these are shortcomings Mr. Kemp will attend to before he presents Pierrot in Turquoise at the Prague Festival at the invitation of Marceau and Fialka next summer. No mean honour for an English mime troupe.

The mime told the story of Pierrot and his attempts to win the love of his life, Columbine. Of course things are never simple, and Columbine falls for Harlequin, and is then killed by Pierrot.

After a few tweaks, Pierrot in Turquoise or The Looking Glass Murders opened at the Rosehill Theater, Whitehaven, before its proper run at the Mercury Theater, and Intimate Theater, both London, in March 1968….
 

 
More on Bowie & Kemp in ‘The Looking Glass Murders’, after the jump…
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
David Bowie and Lindsay Kemp’s rarely seen production ‘Pierrot in Turquoise’, 1968

image
 
In 28 December 1967, David Bowie made his theatrical debut at the Oxford New Theater, in Lindsay Kemp’s mime Pierrot in Turquoise or, The Looking Glass Murders. Bowie wrote and performed the music, and starred as Cloud, alongside Kemp’s Pierrot, Jack Birkett’s Harlequin, and Annie Stainer’s Columbine.

The production was still in rehearsal when it played for its one night at the New Theater, which perhaps explains why the Oxford Mail described the show as “something of a pot-pourri,” though it highlighted Bowie’s contribution for praise:

David Bowie has composed some haunting songs, which he sings in a superb, dreamlike voice. But beguilingly as he plays Cloud, and vigorously as Jack Birkett mimes Harlequin, the pantomime isn’t a completely satisfactory framework for some of the items from his repertoire that Mr Kemp, who plays Pierrot, chooses to present….

...No doubt these are shortcomings Mr. Kemp will attend to before he presents Pierrot in Turquoise at the Prague Festival at the invitation of Marceau and Fialka next summer. No mean honour for an English mime troupe.

The mime told the story of Pierrot and his attempt to win the love of his life, Columbine. Of course things are never simple, and Columbine falls for Harlequin, and is then killed by Pierrot.

After a few tweaks, Pierrot in Turquoise opened at the Rosehill Theater, Whitehaven, before its proper run at the Mercury Theater, and Intimate Theater, both London, in March 1968.

Bowie’s career throughout the sixties exemplifies Thomas Edison’s adage “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration,” as the young hopeful musician worked hard and toured the length and breadth of the UK under various guises: The Konrads, The Hookers, Davie Jones and The King Bees, The Manish Boys, the Blues influenced Davie Jones and The Lower Third, Davie Jones and The Buzz, and The Riot Squad, a band described as:

“The Complete Musical Entertainers covering Pop, Tableaux, Burlesque and Parody”


Even at this early stage, Bowie was shedding musical styles quicker than he changed his hair - from beat thru Blues to Music Hall and Pop. With hindsight, you can see where he was going, but by 1967, the teenager’s first recording career had come to a halt after the release of his oddment Laughing Gnome after which, Bowie didn’t to release a record for another two years.

During this time, he fell under the influence of mime artist and performer, Lindsay Kemp, who helped Bowie channel his unique talent towards Space Oddity and later Ziggy Stardust. As Kemp later told journalist Mick Brown for Crawdaddy in 1974:

“I taught David to free his body,” says Kemp, smiling wickedly.

“Even before meeting, David and I had felt the need to work together. I’d identified myself with his songs, and he’d seen my performances and identified himself with my songs. I was singing the songs of my life with my body; he was singing the songs of his life very fabulously with his voice, and we reckoned that by putting the two together the audience couldn’t help but be enthralled. In other words, one large gin is very nice, but two large gins are even nicer.”

The two large gins became Pierrot in Turquoise, which was filmed by Scottish Television in 1969, and broadcast in July 1970. How a small regional TV station like STV, came to film this rather strange theatrical show is, no doubt, a tale in itself, but thankfully they did, even if one cataloguer at Scottish Screen Archives “found this quite creepy,” it is still well worth watching.

The cast:

David Bowie as Cloud
Lindsay Kemp as Pierrot
Jack Birkett as Harlequin
Annie Stainer as Columbine
Michael Garret as Piano Player

It was filmed at the Scottish Television’s Gateway Theater in Edinburgh, and was directed by Brian Mahoney. Now if only STV made programs like this today…
 

 
Previously on DM

Lindsay Kemp’s Last Dance


David Bowie comes to life in ‘The Image’


 
Parts 2-5 of Bowie and Kemp’s ‘Pierrot in Turquoise’, after the jump…
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Lindsay Kemp’s Last Dance

image
 
Director Nendie Pinto-Duschinsky is currently finishing a documentary on mime and dance legend Lindsay Kemp, which is due for release this summer. Called Lindsay Kemp’s Last Dance, the film has had exclusive access to Kemp’s personal archive and offers unique and highly personal insight into the life and art of the reclusive genius.

Lindsay Kemp, who claims he began life in his mother’s lipstick and shoes, was born in South Shields, England in 1938, and has been a major figure in dance, mime and theatre for over forty years, during which time he starred, choreographed and produced some of the greatest dance productions ever seen. He famously taught David Bowie mime, and collaborated with Kate Bush. As actor he has appeared in Derek Jarman’s Sebastiane and Jubilee; and in Ken Russell’s The Devils and Savage Messiah, he also gave a memorable performance performance in the original version of The Wicker Man. Now Pinto-Duschinsky has filmed Kemp on a tour in Italy, Japan and the UK.

The world’s most famous mime, believing himself to be Queen Elizabeth I travels to Japan to face his own mortality.

What happens when genius is most active in advanced years?

Does an artist’s greatest work hover achingly close to the restraints of their own body?

A unique and captivating feature-length documentary, Lindsay Kemp’s Last Dance is the powerful story of the world’s greatest theatre performer facing his own mortality at 70. The film grew from a childhood meeting between the director of the film and Lindsay Kemp. This turn of fate brought about a friendship that was to take the director on a three year journey to Japan, Italy and the UK to film Lindsay Kemp’s Last Dance.

In contrast to this work and its core meanings, the director has been given access to Lindsay’s personal archive which contains very rare footage spanning his lifetime from his relationship with David Bowie to his work with Kate Bush. His seminal work Flowers, of which no other copy exists, is contained in this archive.

Deeply comical, provocative and emotional, Lindsay’s world onstage and offstage are one seamless act. With his cast of international performers, some of whom are ex-lovers, the score of Carlos Miranda is enhanced by a script in six different languages. Woven into the film are interviews with artists with whom Lindsay has worked. Lindsay comes across as a perfectionist and a seismic personality.

 

 
Previously on DM

Amazing Home Movie Footage of The Ballet Russes in Australia


 
With thanks to Steven Severin
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
A mime that won’t send you into a murderous rage
12.12.2010
08:29 pm

Topics:
Amusing
Art

Tags:
Mime

image
 
Like most of you, I hate mimes. But this guy has a certain je ne sais quo Je ne sais quoi that takes the hammy art to the next level. Marcel Marceau meets the electric boogaloo.

Is this an outtake from Paris Is Burning?
 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment