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Downtown-bound duo's show mixes dance, circus elements

| Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Mario Del Curto / Strates
Zimmerman & de Perrot's 'Hans was Heiri.'
Mario Del Curto / Strates
Zimmerman & de Perrot's 'Hans was Heiri.'
Mario Del Curto | Strates
Zimmerman & de Perrot's 'Hans was Heiri'

Martin Zimmermann and Dimitri de Perrot are proud to be both artists and artisans. They create exceptionally innovative stage works that blend dance and circus to explore the situations of life common to everyone.

They embrace contradictions — such as being careful and precise but also letting it rip — and love laughing their heads off.

“We do everything very seriously, but take nothing seriously,” Zimmermann says.

Zimmermann and de Perrot will present “Hans Was Heiri” from Oct. 16 to 18 at the August Wilson Center, Downtown. The performances are part of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's International Festival of Firsts and also the Pittsburgh Dance Council season.

“Hans Was Heiri” is performed in a large square divided into four rooms that is mounted on a large wheel facing the audience. As it rotates, floors become ceilings.

“The set is a bit like the world, which turns like a washing machine and everything gets mixed up,” Zimmermann says. “What are the rules? Who are we? Is it possible to be an individual, or are we all part of a group? Are we really so different?”

Thus the title, “Hans Was Heiri,” which means two people are the same, as in Jim is John.

Is Martin Dimitri?

“We are really different people. We couldn't work together otherwise,” he says. “We're a working couple, not a couple in life, which is important. Dmitri is more into music. He's really a composer. Me, I'm the person who works with the others physically, because I did circus.”

What they share is creating the design of the sets and the whole atmosphere of the piece. They build it together, which is why they call themselves a “director duo.”

The development of all their pieces has followed the same path, however different the subject.

“We begin with a dialogue and then use drawing to find what kind of space we can invent,” Zimmermann says. “Then, we talk to our technical staff, who say it can't be done. We have to wait a week. Then they say, yes, it is possible. Then, we go to the engineers and they object. We wait a week, and then they say, yes, it's possible.”

Then the co-directors think about the actors they'll need.

“We don't work with words, so it has to be funny,” he says. “If people are uncommon, they're funny. If they're common, they're boring. Our cast selected, we go to work. After a while, the mask of every actor falls away, and we can really go deeper.”

Zimmermann grew up in the Swiss countryside, about an hour from Winterthur, in the village where his mother grew up and his grandfather had been a cheesemaker.

After studying set design in Zurich, Zimmermann continued his education in Paris, where he met de Perrot. They created three shows with another person, then decided to work as a duo.

They had trouble getting their first show booked into a theater because their work can't be contained by the usual categories. They went ahead and presented it in an abandoned house, where it was a big success and presenters could see what they were doing.

“It was new for the arts scene at the end of the '80s and through the '90s, especially in Zurich, but also Bern and Geneva,” Zimmermann says.

The two directors have created eight big pieces over the past 15 years, each of which has been performed 150 to 250 times.

“For us, it's a big gift and incredible because we can live from our art. What more could you want?” he says. “In the beginning, we never thought how it could be.”

Zimmermann, 43, says he loves getting older.

“It's the same thing. It's uncommon when you can do everything. It's boring. When you're limited, you have to find different ways. Clowns are better when they're older,” he says.

“Working physical artists, dancers, they're stuck at 40. They're finished. For me, it's the moment when it's interesting to work with them. That's why I like older dancers and acrobats.”

Mark Kanny is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.com.

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