Étienne Decroux (1898-1991) – one of the most important people in the history of contemporary theater, “father” of the modern mime/pantomime and teacher of famous mime artists like Jean-Louis Barrault and Marcel Marceau – spent nearly all his life creating and developing a subgroup of physical theater that he called mime corporel dramatique; the dramatic corporeal mime. With this article, I don’t want to explain that art form in detail (Google can help you here), I rather want to give you my personal insights on it, what I think is interesting or important.
I came in touch with corporeal mime during my time at Die Etage, a theater school in Berlin. The lessons with the fantastic teacher Oliver Pollak left a deep impression. I totally fell in love. It was like holding the manual to your body in your hands. Practicing corporeal mime was enlightening and extremely energizing. Watching it was breathtakingly beautiful. To me, corporeal mime should be the basic training for EVERY performing artist. For example, in order to express sadness an actor tends to use his voice and face. With corporeal mime all you need is a little shift within your body to attain the same (often much stronger) effect. It’s really stunning.
While classical mime is a universal and clear language for recreating the outer world with its objects and characters, corporeal mime is – mark these words – the language of your soul. As a mime artist you can give your audience a non-existent flower, mastering both languages you can give the flower in a much more interesting and beautiful way while revealing your inner feelings within that simple move. With corporeal mime the smallest actions can become absolutely mesmerizing. Decroux even went as far as to cover the face of the actor and thus created the statuaire mobile – a moving (in multiple senses) statue inspired by the sculptural works of Rodin.
Corporeal mime is a language with a clear grammar; easy to learn, hard to master. You can compare it to chess – a few rules, endless possibilities. Its form is complemented by rhythm (pause, hesitation, resistance and surprise), shift of balance and weight and – most important – presence; another fact of corporeal mime that I really love. It teaches you to completely BE on stage, to conquer the attention, every last drop of it, to be 100% aware of yourself. From there, every tiny action has the power to move a mountain, to cut steel like a laser. There is a huge difference between being on stage and being on stage thanks to Étienne Decroux. And the audience will recognize it immediately.
To slowly come to an end: I love corporeal mime. And if you are slightly interested in any kind of physical theater, dance or theater in general, I suggest you to take at least one course in your life. There are also schools out there (Google is helping again) focussing solely on corporeal mime. And if you are living in Berlin right now and have some basic experiences in physical theater, note this: Together with Oliver Pollak (I have to repeat myself: a fantastic teacher) and my mime colleague Stefan Wabner I have been organizing a regular corporeal mime class at the mime centrum every Tuesday at 8 PM. For more information just drop me a line. It’s great to practice in a group keeping Decroux’s brainchild alive and even developing it further.
~ left video: a typical corporeal mime class | right video: Katja Tannert an me in a corporeal mime performance ~
To slowly come to an end, part two: I am working on my very own corporeal mime act right now and I’m already very excited to present a personal take on this wonderful art form. Watch out for SEELE, coming in 2012. In the meantime: If you like this article, don’t hesitate to share it, to leave a comment, to go to the theater more often (movie theaters don’t count) and to hug the next mime artist you meet. It could be me giving you an invisible flower. Thanks for reading.
PS: As with all instruments, playing it doesn’t mean the music sounds good right away. While searching for videos to embed here, I realized that there are a lot of corporeal mime performances I absolutely don’t like, mostly because I find them to be too abstract, too self-centered, completely ignoring the audience and the rules of a good dramatic composition. One reason more to give it a try myself and prove the opposite. So, stay tuned.