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Mime purists flock to Poland's week-long 13th Inernational Mime Art Festival
Ukraine's Quartet De.Kru perform at the 13th Inernational Mime Art Festival in Warsaw, Poland on August 29, 2013. The week-long international showcase in Warsaw, whose 13th edition ends Saturday, "is the only festival that really does mime," said veteran German performer Alexander Neander. AFP PHOTO/JANEK SKARZYNSKI.

By: Anna Maria Jakubek

WARSAW (AFP).- To speak or not to speak is not the question at Poland's annual mime festival, which takes a purist stance on an art form ever evolving from the heyday of the legendary Marcel Marceau.

The week-long international showcase in Warsaw, whose 13th edition ends Saturday, "is the only festival that really does mime," said veteran German performer Alexander Neander.

Circus arts, acrobatics, puppetry and even minimal text feature in Europe's other big mime festivals, like the long-running ones in London and Perigueux, France.

"Theatre productions are increasingly moving away from 'pure pantomime' and becoming enriched with elements of dance, visual theatre, sometimes verbal elements," Polish theatre sociologist Emilia Zimnica-Kuziola told AFP.

Neander, 43, and the director of Warsaw's International Mime Art Festival, 36-year-old Bartlomiej Ostapczuk, were both trained by Marceau, the late French master of the "art of silence" -- as he called it -- whose white face, striped pullover and expressive genius as the character "Bip" made him the world's most famous mime in the 1960s.

But Poland's own tradition owes much to the late choreographer and director Henryk Tomaszewski, a Marceau contemporary who founded the Polish school of group mime .

He was paid special homage at the opening of this year's show, which included troupes from the Czech Republic, France, Germany and the Ukraine as well as Poland.

The acts ranged from the straightforward -- mimes pretending to climb stairs, play the piano -- to the more abstract, with dance-like gestures. Ostapczuk approves innovations, provided nothing overshadows the craft.

Mime is about "refining a scene little by little to what's essential, so: what is really important here? what really conveys emotion? what offers clarity?" said 44-year-old German performer Wolfram von Bodecker.

Ever the mime, Ostapczuk's family and friends say his gestures are as "clean" offstage as on.

"They say, 'when you pick up a spoon of sugar' " to put in coffee - here he pantomimes the act - " 'you're not doing 10 other things at once. You're not shuffling your feet, you're not looking around, you're not scratching your head. You're just lifting a spoon of sugar and letting it pour.' "

A stickler about silence, Ostapczuk insisted on talking to AFP in person and not on the phone, "or at the very least on Skype. Otherwise "you wouldn't see all this!", he said, laughing and gesturing wildly with one hand while pretending to talk on the phone with the other.

French stage director Lionel Menard, 45, who also worked with Marceau, said his mentor "fought for the mime to not talk, for the work to be built around silence.

"For those who were close to him, who had the chance to meet him, it's good to hand down the tradition, to try to continue the same battle," said Menard, who directed two performances at the Warsaw festival.

Marceau is credited with single-handedly reviving the art of mime -- which dates back to ancient Greece and comes from the Greek word "mimos" or "imitator" -- after World War II.

"He developed a particular style, and it became the art form itself," said Joseph Seelig, co-director of the London International Mime Festival since 1977, in a telephone interview from London.

"Even me, a Marceau alum, occasionally in my productions I'll say, 'Go ahead! talk! It will evoke something, it could be interesting'," said Menard.

"But they don't want to. Et voila."

© 1994-2013 Agence France-Presse

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