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Observing people in everyday life is my core occupation

A universe of grotesque characters. Martin Zimmermann in conversation with Mirjam Hildbrand

The Swiss artist Martin Zimmermann is many things rolled into one: performer, clown, ­director, choreographer, set and costume designer, craftsman, tinkerer and inventor. He grew up in Wildberg, a small village east of Zurich, learned to juggle with circus performer Jacky Lupescu in a neighbouring village, developed his own shows as a teenager and even had a manager. He later completed an apprenticeship as a decorator in Zurich and graduated from the renowned French circus school Centre National des Arts du Cirque (CNAC) in the early 1990s. In 1996 he toured the world with his year’s graduation piece, “Le cri du caméléon” (choreography by Josef Nadj, 1995). This production marked a turning point in the French-speaking context; it established the term “cirque contemporain” (contemporary circus) where previously there had been talk of “Nouveau Cirque” (new circus). In the late 1990s Zimmermann returned to Switzerland, where he has attracted attention for pieces such as “Gopf” (1999), “Hans was Heiri” (2012), “Hallo” (2014), “Eins Zwei Drei” (2018) among many others. He is currently on tour with his productions “Danse Macabre” (2021) and “Wonderful World” (with Kinsun Chan, 2022). His international productions, each of which toured for several years, were funded in Switzerland as dance productions and mostly marketed as such, whereas in the international context they were largely considered (contemporary) circus. In 2021, Martin Zimmermann received the Swiss Grand Prix for Performing Arts/Hans Reinhart Ring for over twenty years of successful creations, with his work described as “visual theatre that hardly fits into a compartment”.1

von Martin Zimmermann und Mirjam Hildbrand

Erschienen in: Arbeitsbuch 2022: Circus in flux – Zeitgenössischer Zirkus (07/2022)

Assoziationen: Zirkus

Martin Zimmermann, here in Switzerland we find it difficult to put your work into one of the categories we are familiar with, we struggle to find the right terms and descriptions for what you do. How would you describe your work?

For me it’s clear, it’s a mixture of circus, dance and ­theatre – it’s just Martin Zimmermann theatre (laughs). The circus is and always has been interdisciplinary and incredibly innovative. And by combining my two areas of training, I have created my own universe. Right from the beginning, I deprived circus bodies of circus objects and circus equipment and placed these bodies in a stage space. My stage spaces are always there before we start rehearsing. They are like directives, they form a framework with clear rules.

Your spaces always have a unique architecture, with moving walls, false bottoms, sloping levels, doors, hatches, pitfalls and much more. They are challenging spaces.

Yes, the spaces put the characters in difficult situations and their instability means they are constantly threatening. And in the process of creation we sometimes set additional rules for certain characters that arise from the space. For example, in “Eins Zwei Drei”, a certain floor area was like...

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