On Stage: the fantastic talking mimes | Calendar | Chicago Reader

On Stage: the fantastic talking mimes 

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Sigfrido Aguilar is a contradiction in terms: a mime who likes to talk. Aguilar, founder of the internationally known Estudio Busqueda de Pantomima Teatro in Guanajuato, Mexico, speaks with an intense, concentrated air, always looking as if he is about to pause to think of some precise word, but never actually pausing. Ask him a question and he'll reply with a torrent of words in jumbled, heavily accented English.

Aguilar uses words, sounds, and stories in his pantomime technique, which he calls commediante personal ("the natural clown soul of the artist"). It incorporates the disciplines of mime, circus clowning, traditional acting, and dance and emphasizes natural movement and everyday gestures unlike those in classical mime. Local mime Karen Hoyer, artistic director of Partners in Mime, describes the most important aspect of Aguilar's technique as the performer's neutral demeanor. "There are many layers of meaning instead of one specific meaning," she says. "The audience has to be open to us and do their own part of the creation."

Hoyer has worked with Aguilar during his annual international workshops (intensive six-hour-a-day, six-week seminars, followed by another five-week bout of more intensive exploration). This time, though, their collaboration is taking place in Chicago. Aguilar has been in town since April 25, teaching classes at Casa Azatlan and at the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum, where he's an artist in residence during his stay. He's also been rehearsing every day with Hoyer and her performers at Berger Park, by the lake, developing a new work that incorporates both theater and mime. Caprichos, as they've titled it, debuts this weekend at the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum.

Aguilar and Hoyer took their inspiration from the paintings of Goya and the writings of Federico Garcia Lorca. Aguilar considers the "fine arts" of tantamount importance to his work, and he sees an especially strong connection between painting and mime. "The moments of improvisation that we have in training are oriented toward thinking from the point of view of images, because we rely on text in a kind of minimal way. . . . The image is maybe the core of the whole improvisational work. . . . In terms of form, we deal with lines or forces like in physics or geometry, so that is already connected to the idea of painting something on canvas." In other words, he's trying to create a three-dimensional painting.

His method of creating Caprichos with Partners in Mime sounds a lot like the process of making a movie--they worked on various scenes, but not in a linear sequence, and eventually put them in order when it came time for final rehearsals. So it comes as no surprise that Aguilar is interested in one day directing film. "In a way, there is a lot of connection in terms of the time and space of the mime. It is a really good sense that we acquire from the time and space of the cinema."

Aguilar, whose teaching credits include being the first instructor of mime clowning for Ringling Brothers Clown College, prefers to use masks only for the broad comedic form of mime that's closest to clowning. The mask, he says, forces the performer to be "more physical. . . . To give life to that mask then requires a very specific change of dynamics." The commedia dell'arte atmosphere he sometimes creates in a piece comes from drawings he's seen in books on commedia dell'arte--he's never actually seen a performance in that genre.

Aside from his years of dramatic arts training at the University of Michoacan, Aguilar is completely self-taught. Now, as a master teacher, he is passing on his own brand of pantomime theater--using both gestures and words.

Caprichos premieres tonight and tomorrow at the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum, 1852 W. 19th St., at 7:30 PM. Tickets are $6, $5 for students and seniors. Call 738-1503 for reservations or 907-2187 for more information.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/J. Alexander Newberry.

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