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Adam Darius at the Arts Lab


Drury Lane, 1968

Adam Darius, Death of a Scarecrow

When an artist approaches the peak of his art, the cliché “Comparisons are odious" takes on a new meaning. This is because he has reached a point where his judgement of quality can only be based on his own self-imposed standards, no-one else’s. The numerous strands of form, content, technique and message become inextricably and instinctively woven together, so that each performance is an experiment and a discovery, and an affirmation and consummation at the same time, Success becomes its own and only criterion. Then the artist, already fully mature in skill and vision, stops being just an exponent, developing himself through the framework of the art, which does not advance. He begins to break new ground for the art itself. To reach such a point can take years of training, discipline and patience.


To see this happening is an exciting experience. Adam Darius, the American mime, is now close to reaching such a point. I saw him performing solo against a background of recorded tapes in the tiny theatre of the Arts Lab in Drury Lane – whose atmosphere, given a little more time to grow, could well revolutionize the English tradition in many fields. Many personal images came to mind when watching him: the Shakespearian fool and the Yeatsian dancer, the jongleur and clown, Blake's ‘Little Boy Lost’ and Cocteau's Orphée, the slum child playing on the streets and Les enfants du paradis, Charlie Chaplin and Anne Frank. His training is classical. Which is to say that he has perfected a long apprenticeship as a ballet dancer, and has had widespread acclaim in many countries, both commercial and otherwise. In many respects he has already ‘arrived’. His short, poignant sketches have all the delicacy, precision, pathos and humour of the great French masters of mime. Added to this, as already indicated, is an understanding and integral use of the techniques of the cinema, best exemplified by the sketch entitled ‘King of the Silent Screen’, in which flashing light creates the exact effect of the stuttering movements of silent movies in the mime.


All this makes for polished performance, expected from any professional dancer, and not in itself remarkable. But there is something new too: his choice of themes. Drug addiction, the brainwashing of the individual by a monolithic consumer society, the compensation dream of the frustrated, hen-pecked husband, the firing squad: these subjects go beyond sentimentality and nostalgia. They break new ground for the art of mime itself, because they are immediately communicable both at the social and the personal, subconscious levels. They show a commitment that is particularly American, which has only just started sweeping through European universities now. And they mirror the angst of today, the rejection by the young of shoddy materialist and the sometimes lyrical, sometimes baffled, frustrated or angry attempts to find new ones. In this respect, seeing Darius perform at the Arts Lab rather than in a public theatre was doubly interesting: though he has, performed for the deaf, BBC television, Vatican officials, Arab villages and border kibbutzim too.


This means, perhaps, that mime can reach out to a much wider audience than before, and no longer be confined to a clique of connoisseurs, refined aesthetes end dilettantes. It certainly means an underlying irritation with the commercial theatre, and an attempt to reach more deeply than traditional mime allows. This scope is produced by the tension in. Darius’ work, the fusion of classical technique with completely modern preoccupations. Neither virtuosity nor committed sincerity alone would do this. And the tendency in his work now appears to be towards an even greater toughness, a firmer, more resilient and self-assured rejection of more 'entertainment’, a deeper and harder-hitting anger: hard to believe perhaps, when one first sees the small slight figure, with the ash-white make-up and the blue wig, but all to the good and growing all the time. What Adam Darius does in the next few years will be crucial, and it remains to be seen how far he will develop his powers. He is planning to make a film, which promises to be better than anything he has done so far.

Parts of this review are quoted in
Dance Naked in the Sun
, Adam Darius
Latonia, London, 1973, p. 262


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