Living Statues

[Photo of
Living Statues]

Perhaps the most extraordinary and original group at this festival is the Berlin-based duo of Tomas Weiss and Niva Howard who call themselves The Living Statues. Dressed in white Grecian robes, their bodies whitewashed and even their hair spray-painted white they set up their mock columns in absolute silence and then, climbing up, freeze into classical poses. What follows is an extraordinary routine of great subtlety and deftness which relies on its humour, charm and beauty on the improvisational interaction between the silent and very slowly moving statues and the spectators.

"It was on a stroll through the Charlottenburg Castle," Weiss tells me with a nostalgic smile, "When we were first falling in love. We saw a couple of empty columns with no statues so we jumped up and pretended to be the missing figures. Afterwards we thought 'what an idea for an installation!' So the next Sunday we covered ourselves with whitewash and arrived at the park."

What started out as a joke became an overnight sensation as people flocked to the park and the Berlin media showed up in droves. "You are lucky," continues the Swiss-born actor, "that we speak to you now because at first we were very secretive. We would arrive at the park on our bicycles, do our routine and speak to no one. When the media asked questions we would disappear."

"It was a big mystery," chimes in Howard, an American trained modern dancer, "Who were we? Where did we come from? What were we doing?" Their Living Statues routine, as well as their newly developed Living Marionettes one, relies on the attentive frame of mind created by the quiet and very slow, deliberate movements of the figures. The crowd becomes mesmerized by the tempo -- those too rushed or impatient leave. In those circumstances the smallest gesture or interaction can have enormous dramatic possibilities. "If life is an art gallery," says Weiss, "we take the pictures down and invite the audience to look at the bare walls. Then, even the smallest speck of colour can have impact and beauty."

Drawing audience members into their silent theatre they develop a kind of pantomime employing daring improvisational strategies. Howard develops a dance with an audience member by collapsing as a limp marionette and trusting that she will be caught before hitting the pavement. Weiss has a child move him -- puppet like -- to a truly precarious perch on the top of a tall ladder where he slowly and carefully dances with them -- if they help him; if they ascend; if they play the game; the ifs are as endless as the possible pathways for the piece. It is absolutely riveting, enchanting and enormously funny theatre.

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