Mummenschanz call themselves Les musiciens du silence (The musicians of silence). Musicians of a special kind they are. Silent, they are. Yet with their delightful, absorbing magic they captivate hearts big and small and spur the imagination of everyone.
I watched one of Mummenschanz’ first performances at Theater 11 in Zürich, a generous and modern venue of glass and concrete. The play of light through the large windows in the foyer of the angular structure makes for an intriguing ambiance. In the auditorium, the fire-engine red seats are tiered to guaranteed a completely unencumbered view from any direction onto the stark black stage.
The show is titled you & me and the black stage is the perfect backdrop for the five artists who are such eloquent masters in communicating meaning and emotions, with their bodies as the sole tool of expression. They are dressed up in varying shapes and materials overtop of head and feet, adorned with googeley eyes and other extensions; or have ingenious materials voluminously draped around a non-visible body, using color and movement to its utmost advantage. Meaning is expressed in an explosion of instancy which makes the audience laugh in unison; or is savoringly drawn out, stringing viewers along in rapt attention for a bit-by-bit dawning. Repeatedly, the youngest audience members around me grasp the meaning quickly and by involuntarily releasing an utterance, bring the rest of us on track!
(Photo above and on front page courtesy of mummenschanz.com, photographer: Marco Hartmann).
The audience is involved by extension as a gigantic benevolent hand of soft, light material – carried on velvety, ridiculously skinny black legs – gently strokes the small humans of the first row. The tone is set and the show begins with the creative play of Mummenschanz’ trademark agile green tube worms that bend, twist, mingle, separate and jump in increasingly expressive forms, demonstrating a variety of human emotions, instantly recognizable.
The show continues to unfold with a myriad of moving tableaus, one giving rise to the next. A poetic, sad mouse with flippers becomes funny; water of the highest flowing capacity witnesses the tender and rapturous love of two unequal giant entities; the joyous flight of the letter M which suddenly discovers its W quality, is then joined by E — or is it another M ?; followed by other alphabet friends, fooling around, metamorphosing into soldier, clown, Pippi, before realizing their highest purpose when finally joined by O… All made possible by exquisite and skilled lighting expertise provided by Swiss Technical Director, Eric Sauge.
Congratulations to creative director Floriana Frassetto, one of the three original Swiss Mummenschanz founders, who toured with the company internationally for the last 45 years. After the departure of the other two founding members, Andres Bossard and Bernie Schürch, Floriana has created, invited and initiated the new Mummenschanz generation of four young Swiss artists, all accomplished acting, mime, dance or circus artists themselves. Two of whom completed the Swiss Academia Teatro Dimitri.
It’s worth a visit, this unparalleled show of simplicity, yet complexity, of individuality, yet universality. For audience members big and small, effortlessly bridging age and technology gap through the common denominator of shared humanity, recognized and experienced during ninety minutes of joint viewing. There is a lot here for everyone.
The company tours Switzerland until June 2017, after which they are planning to tour the US and Canada. To catch one of their incomparable performances, keep an eye on their developing schedule.