Feature: Introducing London International Mime Festival

Friday 20 December 2013 by Laura Dodge

Compagnie 111 'What's Become of You' Stéphanie Fuster & Alberto Garcia

London International Mime Festival kick starts the new year this month with a widely ranging programme of work best described as ‘visual theatre’- and there’s plenty on offer to appeal to dance audiences. Laura Dodge asked Artistic Director Joseph Seelig for a few suggestions…

What is the London International Mime Festival?
It’s London’s longest-established theatre event, founded in 1977. The aim is to promote visual theatre, which encompasses all forms of performance which are not reliant on text, such as circus, live art, puppetry and performance art. It started in just one venue but has been very successful and rapidly expanded. It’s now a truly international event with a mixture of both established and new artists from all over the world.

The festival works very well as a once-a-year spotlight on visual theatre. Some people have been coming for 30+ years and some are new so it appeals to a wide public.

The festival title includes the word ‘mime’. How do you define mime?
People think of mime and they think of Marcel Marceau, but that’s only a small part of the festival. The title is historic so there’s no need to change it, but the festival includes a wide variety of visual theatre.

What should people interested mainly in dance look out for?
Dance is anything these days. It may involve music or no music, talking or no talking etc. But there are four shows in 2014 which I think are of particular interest.

For Compagnie Non Nova’s L’Après Midi d’un Foehn (Platform Theatre, University of the Arts, 8 – 11 Jan), the ‘dancers’ are actually plastic bags. The show opens the festival and is a gorgeous multi-coloured aerial spectacle – a ballet but without human performers.

Spitfire’s One Step Before the Fall (Southbank Centre Purcell Room, 23 – 26 Jan)is a show all about exhaustion and struggle. It’s set in a boxing ring and is inspired by Muhammad Ali’s greatest fight – against Parkinson’s disease. It’s movement theatre of the very highest quality and the way it tackles a really serious issue is gripping.

Man Drake’s Anatomia Publica (Barbican Pit, 21 -25 Jan) is based on a true story which happened in director Tomeo Vergés’s own family. A soldier presumed dead returns home years later to find his wife living with another man. They all live together in a tense ménage a trois. The piece is weird and striking, and movement feels dissected, just like the public dissections to which its title refers.

All those three works are appearing at the LIMF for the first time. The fourth work I recommend is by Compagnie 111 (Barbican Theatre, 30 Jan – 1 Feb) which has shown five productions at the festival. What’s Become of You? is about flamenco dancer Stéphanie Fuster, and whilst it does feature live vocals, it’s not a flamenco show. It’s about a determined woman and her life, and is very interestingly staged.

How do you go about programming the festival?
Myself and fellow director Helen Lannaghan go and see a lot of work and artists also send in DVDs. It takes a great deal of effort to find 14 or 15 really wonderful shows. We’re always looking for work that we like and that is available, excellent, affordable and stage-able. There is also a different atmosphere in each venue, so it’s important to find shows to fit each place.

This year there are seven or eight French companies. We didn’t look for that but it just happens the French shows were some of the best things we’ve seen. The festival isn’t a geography lesson – it’s a matter of choosing the best of what we see and getting a sense of balance of different works to appeal to different audiences.

How have things changed in the LIMF over 38 years?
The event has definitely increased in profile and become more prestigious. As it has been taken more seriously, we have got better venues, which helps to change what people think about mime. Technology has also changed – shows are much more elaborate with technology now.

The festival seems to reinvent itself each year. There are lots of people who come not knowing what they want to see but who trust the festival to bring them something wacky, exciting and off the beaten track. The ability to reinvent and also to appeal to a wide audience has ensured the festival’s success.

London International Mime Festival takes place at venues across the capital – including Southbank Centre, the Barbican and the Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House:

Laura Dodge writes for Dancing Times, Dance Today, Londonist, Bachtrack, amongst other publications. She is also Communications and Membership Officer at Dance UK and a freelance dance teacher.

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