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Bari Rolfe, 86; Expert on the Art of Mime

November 03, 2002|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Bari Rolfe, a dancer, choreographer, teacher and author who became an expert on the art of mime, has died. She was 86.

Rolfe died Oct. 19 of unspecified causes in Berkeley, where she had lived since 1976, according to her friend Spring Friedlander.

Dubbed "the grandmother of American mime" by her devotees, Rolfe wrote several books, including "Behind the Mask" and "Commedia dell'Arte: A Scene Study Book," both in 1977; "Movement for Period Plays" in 1985; and "History and Mystery of Mime" in 1990. She edited other books, including Mime Directory Bibliography in 1978 and "Mimes on Miming" in 1980.

Although Rolfe had no college degree, she taught mime at several institutions of higher education, including UCLA, Cal State Northridge, the University of Washington and Chabot College in Oakland, where she helped establish the Conservatory of Mime. She also conducted workshops in Europe and Canada and at the International Festival of Clowning at Cal State Sacramento.

Born in Chicago to a chiropractor father and dress designer mother, Rolfe grew up, in her words, "dancing around the house." She studied ballet as a child and performed professionally at the Chicago World's Fair, in nightclubs and in vaudeville.

After moving to Los Angeles with her family during World War II, Rolfe worked with the Pan American Dance Group, which helped teach dance to children on the Eastside. Rolfe also performed at military institutions in Southern California and was active in the Hollywood Canteen.

With the first of her three husbands, she moved to San Francisco in the 1950s and there saw a performance of internationally known mime Marcel Marceau that changed her life. By the early 1960s, she was in Europe studying at the Etienne Decroux School for Mime and the Jacques Lecoq School of Mime, Movement and Theater.

"I went to study mime to be a better dancer," Rolfe once told the writers' anthology Contemporary Authors. "But the school opened so many doors to a deeper recognition of reality, to tremendous vistas of imagination, that the experience demanded a shift from performer to teacher. I simply had to proselytize. Then writing was the next logical step."

Information on survivors was not available.

A memorial celebration is planned at 2:30 p.m. today at the North Berkeley Senior Center in Berkeley.

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