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Understanding the Mime Performance

A mime performance is a very popular form of entertainment that one can see on the stage as well as on street corners. This term refers to a type of performance art in which a story is recounted using body movements, facial expressions and hand gestures instead of words.

Most people associate this type of performance with an actor wearing black and white clothing who also has white facial makeup. However, contemporary artistes who mime prefer to do away with the makeup. Irrespective of the getup of the actor, miming is a very entertaining act that most often conveys a comic story, though not always.

While many primitive cultures used miming in order to communicate and entertain because of the lack of a proper language, the term Mime has its origin in a particular type of art enjoyed by the ancient Greeks. The history of the mime performance in Europe stretches way back to a type of drama enjoyed by the ancient Greeks in which a masked dancer performed for audiences.

Called a Pantomimus, this dancer did not necessarily put on a silent show but used a lot of hand gestures to tell a story that usually conveyed moral lessons. However, the name entered popular lexicon in the form of Pantomime which was then changed to become Mime.

The art of miming was very popular in the Middle Ages in Europe, when groups of performers called Mummers used to entertain people with plays about religious themes. Another type of performance art called dumbshow later evolved from Mummer plays and were hugely popular in Europe for their crude comedy about contemporary themes.

It is interesting to note that other cultures also developed highly elaborate art forms that consisted of miming. The Japanese drama form Noh is a different type of mime performance and so is the Indian dance drama called Kathakali.

A mime performance, as we know it today, is the result of the efforts of an acrobat named Jean Gaspard Batiste Deburau. Performing in a theater in Paris, he was responsible for the creation of mime as an art form. His other great innovation was the sympathetic but downtrodden character 'Pierrot'.

Deburau's creation of a new performance art form was the inspiration for many other greats such as Jacques Copeau, Etienne Decroux and Jean-Louis Barrault. However, the person who brought the humble mime performance to great heights and worldwide popularity was Marcel Marceau, a student of Decroux. He created a character called Bip, taking inspiration from American silent film greats such as Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.

A modern mime performance is very different from what it used to be like because contemporary artistes put a lot of effort into creating something unique and different. If the story is a comedy then literal mime is usually used. If the story is a serious one then abstract mime is most likely to be used. What is certain is that this art form is attracting lots of fresh talent and is therefore constantly evolving.