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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

London International Mime Festival: Where Performance Art meets Circus and Narrative

Wherein I attend three mime performances by Blackskywhite, Ockham's Razor and Kitt Johnson X-Act. With illustrations by Rosalie Hoskins.

Written by Amelia Gregory

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Ockham’s Razor by Rosalie Hoskins

I’ll admit it. I’ve never been to much performance art or modern dance before. But let’s just say that my circumstances have somewhat changed of late and at the moment I am enjoying being introduced to new types of creativity.

So, website what’s with this Mime Festival stuff? Well, if you thought that mime was all men in black pretending to grope a wall be ready to have your definition of mime challenged. It seems that mime nowadays is more a combination of contemporary dance and circus. It’s about story telling from an abstracted and expressionistic perspective. In a play you’ve got the constraints of character and storyline – well this modern form of mime is much more like creating a painting over time and space.

I went to my first mime festival performance with a completely open mind, but entirely unsure of what to expect. It’s good to be challenged! Staged in the sadly blighted ICA (threats of closure have been bandied about in the press) this was a truly bizarre tale from Russian troupe BlackSkyWhite – USSR Was Here. In what was to prove a staple the pre-show explanatory notes made absolutely no sense at all, so I just about managed to glean the idea that the ‘storyline’ was based on the brutal history of Russia.

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Blackskywhite by Rosalie Hoskins

The murky blackness of the stage was pierced by the coloured forms of two strange characters who occasionally merged and then separated, interacting in dysfunctional ways. The music and lighting (lighting, I was to learn, is THE key element in mime. God knows how these performers would survive without coloured gels) evoked the kind of freakshow mania I imagine you might have encountered in fairgrounds of yore, the type that could slowly induce madness, in me at least. I really couldn’t figure out how many people were performing, but thought that I counted at least three. Not until the end of the show did I discover that there were actually only two performers, so able to radically change their demeanour as to convince me of their multitude. Double headed? Wherein I presumed the dummy head was the one hanging sideways? Why yes. I was fooled. Clever puppetry such as a curiously adult head on a baby left me wondering where the full person was hidden. With the aid of cunning wide legged pants the two performers were able to mutate, wibbling into shortened gnome figures. Features so altered by elastic bands and hairnets completed my confusion. Despite this discombobulation I have to confess that half way through I was starting to think “When will this nightmare end?” It was not without some relief that an hour later the swirling red and green lights finally came to a halt. Clever for sure, but for a performance artist novice like me watching Blackskywhite was at times more of an arduous task to finish than an enjoyable experience. I think I may have started in at the deep end.

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Next up on my Mime Festival week smorgasbord was a trip to the Linbury Studio Theatre at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden (get me), where it appears that there is an even split between people who dress up to the nines for their every operatastic outing, and those who slump along in their civvies. A background in circus was immediately obvious as the wonderfully named Ockham’s Razor performers sat perched deathly still atop giant bobbins as the audience filed in and dry ice swirled around. The centrepiece of this imaginative set was a vast wheel suspended centre stage and this excellent video put together by the troupe describes how the set informed the subsequent narrative of the performance. The five nimble performers scrambled with undue ease (and superb upper body strength) up ladders and along ropes in elegant procession, all the while making sure the wheel was turned. Until it all went intentionally wrong and the rapidly unwinding spools caused a dramatic panic. Yes, the premise of the ‘story’ was slim – the wheel of work goes round and round – but it was a great deal of fun to watch (one of the blokes was well fit which is always nice) and I grinned through the whole show. Plus I felt very pleased with myself for taking sneaky iphone pics which I then put together with my favourite panorama stitch application. Love that thing.

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Last up was possibly the most interesting piece of mime – a piece called Rankefod performed by a single lady, of indeterminate age, but certainly not in the first flush of youth. (I’ve since discovered that she is in fact over 50. Quite staggering considering what she is able to achieve physically.)

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Kitt Johnson by Rosalie Hoskins

Kitt Johnson is apparently an ex athlete and her command of her body was quite enthralling: an hour spent in her company at the ICA went a lot faster than the first time around. Starting alone in the centre of the spartan stage for many moments she made use of just a few jutting back muscles and flicks of her legs to evoke the early stages of evolution, as interpreted through her body. At first I thought she was wearing just a pair of hotpants, but I then deduced that her plaited hair was actually conjoined with some cave woman-esque shorts. Despite her naked breasts there was nothing remotely sexual about her presence, which through sometimes barely perceptible movements gradually became more animalistic. Described as a “loner” on her website, Kitt Johnson was something of a revelation. I might yet be a convert to this performance art marlarkey.

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