Mimes, music speak to audience without words

Ben Figa

Though the audience in Pick-Staiger Concert Hall on Wednesday night came to hear music, two of the evening’s main performers remained completely silent.

Wolfram von Bodecker and Alexander Neander, a duo from Paris’ Marcel Marceau Miming Company, silently accompanied the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra in the U.S. premiere of Philip Glass’ “In the Upper Room.”

Adults and students packed Pick-Staiger Concert Hall to watch as the pair mimed a story about a writer who is consumed by ideas and destroyed by his characters. The mimes used only one prop — a cloth banner attached to a pole — which was transformed into a writer’s table, a sailboat and a lance.

Sasha Rosen said she expected the mimes to wear the trademark black costumes, white face powder and black eyeliner, but she was surprised she could understand the mimes’ movements.

“It was nothing like I’ve ever seen before,” said Rosen, a Weinberg sophomore.

Offstage, the pair spoke candidly about how they became mimes and about the art form itself — in words, not gestures.

Von Bodecker said he became interested in magic and music at a very young age.

“I then saw pantomime as the magic I wanted to use on the stage,” said von Bodecker, who met Neander while studying in Paris. “Before, I was a magician and (I found that) to really touch the audience, (miming) is what I wanted to do.”

Neander’s interest in miming began at age 9 when he saw a performance by the company’s namesake, Marcel Marceau.

“(Marceau) created a world around him in a very special form,” Neander said. “I started to imitate him, and I really wanted to do miming.”

The mimes also discussed other role models.

“The old movies with Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton are timeless,” von Bodecker said. “They created not only entertainment but also an art form.

“Every time I see a Chaplin film, I get touched — each time we see it we get something new out of it.”

Coming from a family of musicians, Neander said music is a major influence on his career.

“Mime and music are always similar, because it’s like respiration,” he said. “You can hear music and rhythm — (and it is) very simple to move your body.”

The school Neander and von Bodecker attended teaches a wide range of skills needed for miming to about 10 to 30 people at a time.

Von Bodecker said the school’s main classes are mime technique, fencing, ballet, drama, and modern dance.

The miming pair have traveled to China, North America and different parts of Europe to perform their shows.

He said they thrive on the different audiences’ reactions.

“The whole North (and) South American audiences are really into the mime show and they really become a part of it. This is the bread of mimes — audience reaction,” Neander said. “In every country, they welcome us with open arms.”

Not talking isn’t an obstacle to the silent actors when they’re on stage.

“The music doesn’t explain anything but it attaches you — you’re touched by the pictures and emotion,” von Bodecker said. “The meaning is beyond words.”