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Obituraries

Jacques Lecoq; French Master Teacher of Mimes

January 29, 1999| From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Jacques Lecoq, the French mime master and teacher of the art of expressive gesture and actions, has died. He was 77 and died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Paris on Jan. 19.

Because he rarely performed in public, Lecoq was not as famous as Marcel Marceau and Etienne Ducroux, French pantomimists who are well known in that country and around the world. But he was an influential teacher, tutoring many foreign mimes at Ecole Jacques Lecoq, the school he founded in Paris in 1956 that is run by his wife, Fay.

A former fencer and commedia dell'arte trouper, Lecoq was not interested in turning out classic mimes or actors. He stressed the development of "physical vocabulary" and taught silent improvisation, the use of masks, techniques of movement and the spirit of comedy, melodrama and tragedy.

"Find the gesture of the word, the actions for the verbs, in the profound silence in which they were born," he often said.

Lecoq would put students through demanding physical exercises, such as mixing a cocktail in 181 steps. Learning to clown also was a central part of his training. Lecoq counted on his students failing on their first attempt to make people laugh so that they could learn something about authenticity. They were not to play at being a clown but learn to be a clown.

He also used masks--of blank faces, or faces that were disfigured or had red noses--to help students simplify and amplify their gestures. The point, he told students, was "to act with your body, to think with your body," reminding them that "the body doesn't lie."

Lecoq trained about 130 students a year at his school in northern Paris on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis. Among his graduates are members of the celebrated mime troupe Mummenschanz, the actor Geoffrey Rush (Oscar winner for "Shine") and the director Ariane Mnouchkine.

"Lecoq was a master. He was an inspiration," former French Culture Minister Jack Lang told the newspaper Le Monde.

Lecoq, who is survived by his wife and four children, was buried in Paris on Tuesday.

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