… Surrealism in motion …
Mummenschanz creates a world in which creatures take on forms different from our world but are governed by the same laws of physics as our world. Performers dressed in fascinating and often beautiful materials create great shimmering shapes that roll, climb and cavort around the stage, as the properties of the materials and their construction drive original means of locomotion and unique negotiations with gravity.
Mummenschanz looks much as if someone turned on the switch, setting the paintings of Joan Miro and the biomorphic surrealists into motion — not that any one painting is “quoted,” but in spirit, though Miro goes deeper. This link has a naturalness to it because Miro and others sought to transcend the still boundaries of painting, yearning to express in their art the dimension of time and movement.
It’s akin to dance, although in dance we recognize the movements as developments of what we can do, with the thrilling exaggerations training makes possible. In Mummenschanz, the structure and capacities of the human body are masked in favor of bodies that, through their design, have other movements — though behind the creative transformations are dark clad performers occasionally glimpsed, and their artistic imaginations. With the help of sticks and struts and collaborations, the scale is generally larger than human.
In one scene, a huge biomorphic blob you have to love uses its eccentric physical properties to reach the top of a platform. It gets there, not the way you would but its way, that we’ve fast learned to understand. Our relief in pleasure at its success shows that it’s not form that engages our emotions, but valiant struggle.
In addition to these beautifully conceived and performed abstract dramas, there are also vignettes closer to classic mime, where the performers are fully visible but who maintain the theme of malleable transformations. There’s one, for instance, where through a dance of hands and putty, the faces of the two performers mold and remold in response to the give-and-take plays in their strutting rivalry.
Mummenschanz is dedicated to theater without words or music, but theater if fundamentally drama and there’s plenty of drama, and laughter, and beauty. Mummenschanz is a delightful adventure that leaves you smiling. It expands the mind and imagination.
This Swiss company of performers performs at NYU’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts in Greenwich Village through January 8th, with post-show talk-backs on some occasions. For more information about Mummenschanz.