EL CAJON — The unspoken eloquence of mime has been silent for quite some time on San Diego stages. But this ancient art form will enjoy a brief renaissance this week.
This evening at 8 p.m., Bronislaw Machalski will break the ice with his one-man show at the East County Performing Arts Center. On Feb. 7 and 8 at 8 p.m., San Diego-based Jay Miller will offer a pair of performances of his brand of mime at the Theatre in Old Town.
Machalski and Miller are poles apart in their approach to the aesthetic. But diversity of expression is nothing new in the world of mime. As observed in the reference book "Performing Arts": "Probably the only thing they (mimes) will agree on is that it is a dramatic presentation that lies somewhere between dance and drama."
Machalski, deaf since childhood, cannot alternate between the worlds of sound and silence. He inhabits a silent universe on and off the stage. And for his performing persona, he has fashioned a mute stage character named Miko (a close cousin to Marcel Marceau's everyman, Bip).
Silence is golden to this Polish-trained pantomimist, as tradition dictates. In the guise of the white-faced Miko, he transforms his articulate body into a litany of human archetypes and makes the wordless domain of mime an expressive means of communication.
Machalski's career began to skyrocket in 1967 when he won the Grand Prize at the International Mime Festival in Warsaw. During the past three years, he has concentrated on his adopted country, the United States (where he has lived since 1978), performing extensively on the West Coast.
Tonight's performance of "Miko and His World" will put Machalski through the gamut of emotions and demonstrate the classic traditions of pantomime--one of the oldest forms of theatrical performance.
Miller, on the other hand, creates his mime from an amalgam of ingredients, including a few contemporary innovations of his own. Of course, silence is an essential ingredient in the mix. But along with the gestural language, Miller includes live verbalizations and voice-overs to enhance his portrayals.
"I use the Greek and Roman traditions, commedia dell'arte (with its stock characters, such as Harlequin and Columbine). But I also use silent film-style mime, like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, Polish classical (techniques) and dance. I've integrated ballet and even jazz dance, so (my performance) is more than just mime. I'm using physical comedy," said Miller in an interview earlier this week. "After all, what is mime? It's what the mime makes it."
Marceau was one of Miller's mentors, and he reveres the acknowledged master of 20th-Century mime, but he does not try to mimic Marceau's methods.
"I like to work off improvisations. I'm really a stand-up comedian. I'm not a white-faced mime. There are a lot of costume changes in my performance, and I'm also very theatrical about my lighting. In one piece ("Miles West"), I do the entire detective story." He leaped to his feet for an impromptu performance to punctuate his point. Miller conjured up a series of characters from his private-eye sketch with lightning-quick changes of facial expression and body stance and an assortment of dialects before settling down again.
"In order not to just narrate, I use musical interludes, voice-overs (for the inner monologues) and a Bogart hat. My mime is always connected to something. They're really little theatre pieces."
Miller, a newcomer to San Diego, plans to expand "Miles West" to a full theater piece, using other actors to flesh out the characters. He also has his sights on creating a mime theater and school. He is a mime instructor at United States International University.
"I find people in their hearts have a deep and profound feeling for mime," said Miller. "Mime is sort of an orphan of the performing arts, but if an orphan works hard enough, people take notice."
Miller has already been singled out by the San Diego Area Dance Alliance to put on the festival's first mime performance. He will debut in the San Diego dance world in April.
He is delighted to be a trailblazer for mime at the previously all-dance festival, but this non-traditionalist is comfortable in any theatrical setting.
"I'm just happy to play the fool for you."