Laughter resounded at the U.S. premiere of Martin Zimmermann and Dimitri de Perrot's "Hans was Heiri" Wednesday night at the August Wilson Center, Downtown. The show is part of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's International Festival of Firsts and its Pittsburgh Dance Council season.
"Hans was Heiri," which will be repeated Oct. 18, is a 75-minute entertainment without narrative, a sequence of routines ranging from slapstick to satire. It draws freely from many genres, particularly the amalgam of physical comedy and mime familiar from circus acts. Dance, per se, is minimal.
The six characters play at least as much off the set as each other. In the first section, the props are simple, small tables and their legs, and door-sized rectangular panels behind which characters disappear. One of the physical gags involves a woman fitting herself into the panel's wood frame, which is then balanced and rotated on a corner with her in it. She is astonishingly flexible and amusing, fitting herself into a small box and moving around with it.
The set's most impressive feature is a large, square box, divided internally into four rooms, which rotates as quickly as several times a minute. It's used in many clever ways, including gravity- defying poses as everything is turned upside down. Later in the show, some of the performers ride it on the outside, producing gasps from the audience.
One of the funniest routines features a character very similar to Dick Shawn's Sylvester Marcus in the film "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World." In "Hans was Heiri," the character is an outrageous guru dressed only in underwear who invites four disciples into his tiny room for a session. In a later sketch, the same performer poses as the mirror image of the taller female performer, showing the same amount of leg.
The music for the show was composed by de Perrot, who performs it live from the side of the stage. It sets up a sort of hip beat to start and later includes bits of many things from a folk song to fragments from opera and ballet music.
Zimmermann plays an energetic, but sad-sack, character throughout, a vibrant personality in his way. The show is very well- cast. Every performer produces his or her own astonishing feats.
The show's analogies to life, the characters we encounter in it and how we adapt to each other and changing circumstance, are always there to see. But, although gravity plays a big role in the show, Zimmermann and de Perrot's perspective isn't heavy. In "Hans was Heiri," anything can be good for a laugh.
Zimmermann and de Perrot's "Hans was Heiri" will be repeated at 8 p.m. Oct. 18 at the August Wilson Center, Downtown. Admission is $19 to $55. Details: 412-456-6666 or www.trustarts.org.
Mark Kanny is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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