Mime Fest was held from 15 to 20 September 2014 in Polička, East Bohemia. It seems to have already grown up of its baby shoes which can be proved by the prevailing number of foreign artists and ensembles participating as well as by daily packed house. Polička festival included ten evening performances and matinées and six different, simultaneously going, workshops led by teachers for Ecuador, Finland, Germany (two), Poland and Russia. The performances took place on both stages of the Tyl House, the big and the small one. The 3rd edition brought an innovation – two clowns Radek Pokorný and Ondřej Holba – who presented the individual pieces, provided essential information and cheered up the audiences in their improvised Czech-English forestage dialogues.
Pantomime from Egypt and Ecuador
Radim Vizváry can surprise, as an artist he searches for unconventional, unexplored situations and motifs to use in his works. And as the dramaturge of the festival, he took the risk of having names and countries we do not hear much about in the branch. And his courage repaid. The large Egyptian ensemble El-Ghaba, formed predominantly by the students of the theatre school in Kahira, arrived to Polička to give its very first guest performance abroad! The first day of the festival, the company presented a spectacular revue, loosely combining various popular dance numbers with mime scenes in order to show its country’s contemporary culture. The ensemble bears the name of Rewan El-Ghaba, very agreeable director, who took part in the performance as a dancer and actor. Her young colleagues proved to be well oriented in the European mime style, as they showed mime scenes inspired by the work of Claire Heggen from the famous Théâtre du Mouvement (wonderful etude Človíček a démon - Little Man and the Demon), and Ladislav Fialka from Pantomima Na Zábradlí (e.g. car drive). They illustrated their country’s cultural life, oscillating between the original native and western lifestyle, in a dynamic mixture of shorter dance sequences including break dance, belly dance, sufi dance. Their performance at the final gala night was especially enjoyable as its compendious composition highlighted the original Nubia music and Mohamed Mounir’s singing.
Another surprise was the show of the top Ecuador ensemble Teatro del Cielo, led by Steve Wason and Corinne Soum’s former student Martín Peňa. As for this company, we did not get South-American exoticism, as we could have expected, but Étienne Decroux’s corporel style in the purest form I have ever seen live. The evening consisted of several famous etudes (Tesař – The Carpenter, Zlý duch – The Evil Spirit, Pradlena – The Laundress, Továrna – The Factory) and a longer piece called Le Toucher, related by its poetic conception to Wason’s creations, apparently placing emphasis on the poetics of the mise-en-scène. Teatro del Cielo’s performance should be recommended to all physical theatre lovers, mainly because of the purity of execution and exceptionally high technical level. But the piece makes us think of issues such as reconstruction of classical style, its modernity and ever-lasting originality. Although Decroux’s etudes are an output of his laboratory research from the 1930’s and 1960’s, the representatives of contemporary dance might understand this essential movement of mime art as well. On this occasion, I cannot but regret our insufficient promotion of Steve Wason and Corinne Soum’s lessons when they were guest teaching at HAMU not long ago.
Pantomime from Poland
The festival in Polička is regularly joined by associated Polish ensembles. This year it welcomed four former members of Henryk Tomaszewski Wrocław Mime Theatre, assembled in a company called Group X, headed by Katarzyna Śniezka-Sobiszewska. The artists from Tomaszewsky’s last generation of mimes-dancers chose a rather common silent film era motif, with the topic of small-town household hypocrisy. Their silent slapstick grew into almost “graphic” satire, thanks to sharply defined comic types and exalted, but elegant movements which made it very pure. The performers added vital energy and fast-rhythm unison and turned the piece into an attractive spectacle.
Seeing their performance, it is good to remember the characteristics of the founding era of Polish pantomime, so different from Ladislav Fialka’s work, due to its large-scale conception and ballet foundations. The director of Group X was a successful ballet dancer herself but she abandoned her career at Tomaszewsky’s request as he recognised her dramatic talent. She performed at the festival with Mariusz Sikorovsky in a serious dialogue about life and death entitled Setkání v poušti (Desert Encounter). She used some elements of the nó theatre, as well as contemporary physical theatre. In Polička, she also taught workshops which she also leads in Poland under the umbrella institution Fundacja Pantomima. Concurrently, she writes and collaborates as an author with the Warsaw television.
The second piece had a completely different character. The clown duo from Gdaňsk named Pinezka Teater is formed by Przemysław Grzadziela and a pretty deaf dancer Iwona Cichoczová. Their rather traditional style - as far as clown typology is concerned – disposed of elements of pantomime, puppet theatre and circus acrobatics. In addition, the principal mastered playing for a small audience, which participated readily in the performance.
The third numerous group consisted of Czech companies. Besides HAMU graduates and students – Kateřina Janečková, Anna Kukuczková, Valérie Radzová, Anton Eliáš, Ondřej Holba, Tomáš Kasprzyk, Radek Pokorný, Jakub Urban – we could see Boleslav Polívka who presented his long-played piece Pro dámu na balkoně (For the Lady on the Balcony). To his honour, we have to point out that he never performs it as a fixed thing. This time, he took us by surprise again – on the backdrop of his performance there hid a shadow of the old and rejected Falstaff. An experience of an absolutely different genre was provided by a mime opera buffo Život na Měsíci (Life on the Moon), how we could characterise the new adaptation of Joseph Hayden’s opera of the same name. The tandem Radim Vizváry and Valentina Šuklina staged it as their third opera opus with the company Tichá opera (Silent Opera) and they included two mimes – Anton Eliáš and Anna Kukuczková. And it was the pantomimic scenes that add some motion to otherwise static piece (everything is happening within one space at an earthly or heavenly feast) and freshened up the passages sung in Italian. The directors backed simplicity and comprehensibility of the piece which got a fairy-tale-like charm. Due to very limited space – for some unclear reason, the Culture Centre management did not allow to perform on the big stage – the piece lost the effect of otherwise beautifully designed scenography of the Moon.
Teachers on stage
The warm, almost family atmosphere was supported by the fact that the leading teachers took part in all events beyond their scheduled lessons, plus they performed at the final gala night which presented the famous artists in an unconventional way. The truly original opening was provided by the duo Veronika Riedlbauch (as a pianist) and Oliver Pollak, one of the best European pedagogues of pure mime. First, they were both improvising on the piano in front of a fully lit auditorium till the moment Olliver Pollak separated and kind of danced an original scene that could be characterised as “rise and fall”, only loosely based on his own teaching methodology. The first lady of German pantomime, teacher and dancer by profession, Anke Gerber, won the hearts of many of her students by well-structured lessons focusing on movement preparation to mime – she is not the author of a unique publication Anatomy of Pantomime just for anything. During the final evening, she appeared on stage unexpectedly as a clown with very fine expressionism enabling her to create the image of a man thrust into political struggles – there is no other way for clowns than escape. The motif of her performance reminded me of the old-time Deklaunizace (Declownisation) by Ctibor Turba. Even though the theme is general, it remains alive for the former NDR citizens but brings back the shared experience of NDR and Czechoslovakia even for the middle generation.
The anti-pole of Peňa’s incredibly precise teaching of already classical educational system of Étienne Decroux were the highly challenging lessons of Irina Andreeva, especially because of her endeavour to release the mind and movement from well-known models in order to express her own emotional life. In the performance of the Finish clown Taina Mäki-Iso we met with a specific minimalistic gender humour, deliberately oscillating between banality and exaggeration. Besides the festival pedagogues, there appeared the HAMU bachelor-programme students Anna Kukuczková and Anton Eliáš in a vividly grotesque gag à la Pepek Námořník (Popeye the Sailor Man) which let shine their high-quality technical foundation and genuine sense for theatrical art enabling to create two irresistible comic types.
This year’s edition of Mime Fest reached considerable genre range and depth of views on modern mime. It thus covers the field that has been somewhat neglected for the last two decades, but the quality of the festival signals the rise of the branch, through reminding both its own tradition and innovated topics. It proves to be very useful for all those who want to focus on movement arts. The daily packed house for more than four hundred spectators justifies the fact that Mime Fest will be held again in Prague in a month. The Prague re-edition will have a different programme. Both festival events are related by the desire of Radim Vizváry, artistic director of the festival, famous mime, director and teacher, to give mime theatre back its former poignancy and popularity.
Mime Fest Polička
15th–20th September 2014
Translation: Tereza Cigánková