Clowning about… seriously

Swiss performer Martin Zimmermann blurs the lines between the inanimate and the living in ‘Hallo’

Martin Zimmermann (photo credit: AUGUSTIN REBETEZ)
Martin Zimmermann
(photo credit: AUGUSTIN REBETEZ)
Martin Zimmermann has that rare and most delectable quality about him. As will be patently apparent when he takes the stage at the Jerusalem Theater next Friday and Saturday (2:30 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. respectively), as part of this year’s Israel Festival, the 48-year-old Swiss performer retains an endearing ability to convey a simple sense of the absurd while having as much fun as he can in the process.
Hallo seems like an appropriate name for the work in question, as Zimmermann seems to be everywhere and anywhere about the stage at any given moment. He also constantly blurs the lines between the inanimate and the living, breathing and prancing corporeal, as he seems to make parts of the set come to life, while intermittently becoming blending in with the onstage furniture himself.
There is ne’er a dull moment in Hallo, and you really don’t know what to expect next as Zimmermann moves deftly between the pliable props. But this is not dance, and you are not really cognizant of the fact that it is all choreographed down to the minutest of moves. It has to be. Even the merest of false steps and Hallo would come crashing down on the Swiss entertainer.
Zimmermann confesses to having an enduring love affair with the work. “I had the premiere in 2014,” he says. “I played it more than 200 times.” Familiarity is still a long way from breeding contempt, or even a smidgeon of ennui for him. “I love this piece. It is like I play it for the first time. That is good.”
Martin Zimmermann (Credit: AUGUSTIN REBETEZ)Martin Zimmermann (Credit: AUGUSTIN REBETEZ)

As any performer will readily declare, being on your lonesome in front of an audience can be quite a challenge. There is no one to hide behind, and you have to be on the ball throughout. “It is super physical for me,” Zimmermann notes. “It is the first solo play I ever did.”
The challenge of maintaining a high quality bar helps him deliver the goods every time he steps out onto the boards. It is a delicate balancing act with no margin for error. “It is about being precise with the props, but also to be free inside, and to be patient – to make the preparation like I did the first time. Then it works.”
But, for Zimmermann, it is not just about staying on his toes, and practically every other part of his amazingly nimble physique. It is about communicating with the paying customer too.
“It is a mix between trying to be yourself, to be free and to give that to the audience,” he notes. “It is a meeting between you and the public. When you connect with them, you sort of do it together, in a way.”
While the man is clearly an artist of the highest caliber, you never get the feeling that he is out there in some creative stratosphere. There is a wonderful street level charm to Hallo.
Martin Zimmermann (Credit: AUGUSTIN REBETEZ)Martin Zimmermann (Credit: AUGUSTIN REBETEZ)

“I thought I need to make this show open, and I want to present myself to people that I am just a human being. So I tried to choreograph, and to write in all the emotions we have as human beings, in our life. I tried to include all these facets, and to play with that during an hour and 10 minutes. I did that.”
He certainly did, and does. In Hallo, Zimmermann not only delivers in artistic, and entertainment, terms, he also comes across as downright human, vulnerable and definitively spectator friendly. “I tried to make a huge mixture between the objects, me, and music. It’s like a sculpture that is never finished.”
There is, indeed, a sense of a flowing continuum, with Zimmerman constantly surprising us with some unexpected move, as he flits in and out of the set. He also pertains to the courageous breed of performing artist, wearing his emotions on his sleeve and freely letting us in on his “less presentable” side. “If I am struggling in my life, maybe I am closer to life than if I’m not struggling,” he posits. “That is also one of the important questions in this piece.”
In fact, Zimmermann wholeheartedly embraces his pockmarks, and they even provide him with fodder for work. “I love when it is not correct. I love it when there are mistakes [in the show]. These are all gifts for me to create.”
That also helps to draw the observer in closer, and I suggest that Zimmerman follows something pretty close to a circus act. “I think it is like being a clown,” he suggests. “But clowns can be tricky.”
For all his imperfections, Zimmermann is one helluva performer, and a highly personable chap too.
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