2007-09-28 Christine Pizziol-Griere
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Marceau said much with his silent act

Marcel MarceauMarcel Marceau
The world-famous master of mime Marcel Marceau died on September 22nd at the age of 84. Marceau achieved world fame when he created Bip, his on-stage persona, a sad-faced tragi-comic figure. Bip expressed happiness and hope, solitude and despair. He showed life in all its beauty and fragility. Radio France International’s Christine Pizziol-Griere has this report:

I’m at the “Atelier de Belleville”, a Mime school run by Ivan Bacciocchi in Paris. He’s guiding his students through a whole range of mime gestures. We tilt our heads to the right, then bounce back to centre, repeat the movement adding the neck, then the chest, followed by the torso. There’s a real sense of rhythm here. Bacciocchi trained as an actor in his native Italy before coming to Paris to study miming at the school of Etienne Decroux. He then worked alongside Marcel Marceau for 10 years at Marceau’s mime school.

“ Marcel Marceau was somebody who mastered the art of speaking. He loved to talk… he enjoyed telling anecdotes about his life or about the people he knew. He was a very warm individual and reached out to others. He was a true humanist; he looked upon others, on humanity with a big heart. He could be upset by tragic events and gladdened by all the little things in life. In daily life he was a very down to earth person.”

I asked some students what brought them to this mime workshop. Marjolaine Levebre is learning the art of mime for her work as a magician.

“I think it can help me on stage to be more present, more efficient.”

What do you like about miming?

“The silence, the body is speaking, your imagination has to work. You can’t just see and be passive. As a spectator, you have to be active, to see and understand; you are engaged.”

“What did Marcel Marceau represent for you?”

“Marcel Marceau gave his art to all publics, Marceau tried to make miming more popular.”

Marjolaine hopes that Marceau’s death will revive interest in the art of mime. Another student, George Ede, explains how he’s joined the mine group:

“It was actually a gift from my wife…On my birthday she gave me an envelope with money inside and a date and address and said show up there…. work is stressful, I’m travelling between Paris and New York and this gives me an opportunity to improvise and think like a child; it’s kind of fun.”

In one famous sketch, Marcel Marceau plays all the characters in a park from little boys playing ball to old ladies knitting. In his act ‘Youth, Maturity, Old Age, Death, he showed the passing of an entire life in just minutes. He tamed lions, flirted with ladies at cocktail parties, tried to escape from glass boxes and cages. He adored silent film star Charlie Chaplin. He was also a fan of Buster Keaton and the Marx Brothers. Marcel Marceau was revered by people in Japan and North America. But his relationship with his home country was more complicated and he performed less on the French scene in the past 20 years. Was he seen as old-fashioned? Or is it the case that no one can be a prophet in his own land? Ivan Bacciocchi regrets the closing of Marcel Marceau’s mime school in 2005 and worries about the future of mime in France:

“Although the art of mime is disappearing rapidly, work on body expression is flourishing. But what remains of this heritage? It’s not a building! As you can see, there’s a method, and rules. What will remain of this heritage if it’s not passed on? So that is a real dilemma because we’re losing memory, memory that’s been developed over many years of research. It’s as if contemporary dance turned its shoulder on classical dance, saying ‘you no longer interest us, we’re only going to do modern or post-modern dance’. All the founders of modern dance started out with classical dance. Mime is heritage that should be protected, studied and passed on. France, the homeland of Jean-Louis Barrault, Etienne Decroux and Marcel Marceau -- all masters of mime -- should have done more to defend its heritage.”

Marcel Marceau invented over 250 hand signs. He influenced countless younger performers. Pop star Michael Jackson says his famous ‘moonwalk’ was inspired by Marceau’s sketch “Walking against the Wind”. Marceau played to full houses around the globe averaging 200 shows a year until well into his seventies. He also painted, wrote children’s books and appeared in several movies. On-stage, Marcel Marceau never uttered a single word. Except once. He said the only line in Mel Brook’s ‘silent movie.’ The line consisted of one word, a resounding French ‘Non!’. Marcel Marceau -- the man who chased butterflies as Bip -- left the worldly stage this week. His career spanned 50 years, and the whole range of human emotions. For Network Europe, I’m Christine Pizziol-Grière.

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