Rachel Straus - Dance Writer

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January 2003

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Juilliard Dance

Published: January 28, 2003
Category: review

Mummenschanz captures the child in the everyday

By Rachel Straus

Before there were Transformer toys, there was Mummenschanz. Not quite mime, not quite dance, the theatrical company speaks to the childish and inventive part of our imaginations – the part that sees the moon as an ever-changing face and a wind-swept newspaper as a graceful dancer.

Mummenschanz, roughly meaning masquerade, has been changing shapes, colors and size with the aid of everyday materials since 1972.

Based in Switzerland, the company is comprised of four performers, which include founders Bernie Schürch and Floriana Frassetto and relative newcomers John Charles Murphy and Raffaella Mattioli. On Saturday, Mummenschanz stopped on its nine-week U.S. tour at The Performing Arts Center at Purchase College to present its new production, “Marvels From Around the Globe.”

Mischievously savvy and seamlessly performed, the performance appealed to the young, and to the young at heart – as evidenced by the many adults who came without children.

Each scene – whether involving a crinkling, elephantine garbage bag that looked like it could eat the first row, or a whirling length of white fabric that drew human profiles in midair – was heartily accompanied by laughter and breath-holding moments of anticipation. Mummenschanz doesn’t use music, yet it makes plenty of sound.

Despite its title, “Marvels From Around the Globe” plays with the familiar. In one movement, a pair of performers don lentil-shaped sacs, pinching the fabric to resemble puckered mouths. One yaps away at the other. We all know people who can be reduced to such singularly defining characteristics.

Almost every vignette proved engaging. A shimmering golden triangle that looked like a witch’s hat on fire tap-danced across the stage. Later, a lurching silver cone shape produced a mundane comment from a parent in the audience – “It looks like a Hershey kiss,”- and a poetic one from her child: “I think it’s a raindrop.”

In another scene, a floating green disc hovered about the stage. The child behind me whispered, “It’s a lily pad” while another piped in, “It’s a flying saucer.” I thought it looked like a lethal pizza pie in the making. The imagination gets a workout here.

In 1979, the company’s run on Broadway lasted three years. Today – despite the fact that the performers are no longer in their 20s – the dancers still thrill with effortless feats of physical endurance. Before intermission, three performers, each hidden in the shape of a circle, a square and a triangle, climb one on top of the other to create a torso with a face capped by a crown – a feat accomplished without a groan or creak.

Mystery hovers through Mummenschanz, aided by François Thouzet’s precisely positioned light beams and black-lighting techniques and by the ingenious, ever-changing props that disguise the performers’ bodies until their bows.

Conjuring unearthly landscapes that reflect all-too-human sensibilities, Mummenschanz is a good fit for our time.

The Journal News

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