Life story with quotations
from: Maike van Schwamen
for the monthly "ARTE Magazine": Dimitri, clown! in:
arte-tv, 9.3.2005; http://www.arte-tv.com/fr/art-musique/special-cirque/723116,CmC=724062.html
by Michael Palomino).
The clowns? You find them obviously in the circus - and
sometimes also elsewhere when you look precisely. After
three seasons with circus
Knie Dimitri was interested again in playing
theater, and this passion he has until today. We could get
to know Dimitri in Basel.
And here he was: A little well dressed man comes in and
reports to the waitress that he had a meeting with a woman
journalist. With his belted brief case you could also see a
professor in him. He turns, looks at me and is coming
towards me with a friendly, almost shy smile. His hand grip
is soft but not without force, alright.
Dimitri, also a kind of a Beatles hairstyle is
associated with him, brown before, now it became more of
some gray. But this is the only change that has happened
in his long career. He comes from Ticino, but since a
long time he is famous also outside of the territory of
the federal state; the great little clown from Ascona has elated the
public already in Paris, New York and in Tokyo, and in
Australia, in South America or in China he was also
wanted to be seen, too; under the patronage of circus Knie, the Big Apple circus (New York) and
many others, but mainly also as a solo entertainer.
Effects who everybody on the world can understand:
with mini trumpet
with mini accordion
Aside to me he is telling story after story, sometimes
stopping "to consider a little bit, to find good answers".
Is he a man who sees the context of life? "Yes, that is
true." Dimitri does not like to be compared always with
the cliché of a sad clown - and his work is not hindering
him to be occupied with the big actual problems: "One
cannot have a life only laughing or making jokes." He
recognized very soon having also another task than only
"to make a young charming woman laugh."
Dimitri is totally a clown sincerely. He was it and will
be it for his life. After all there is no other way of
life: "To be a clown is a huge task, and it's not possible
to do it only half." He is not amazed that always less
people are occupied with buffoonery - but it's always
again a joy for him to see when one or another of his
pupils of his school in Verscio
(high school for movement theater, founded in 1975
in Ticino) is
going on with a career!
[Dimitri's impulse for buffoonery with 7 years -
pantomime with Marcel Marceau - circus Knie]
Dimitri detected with 7 years that buffoonery could be a
profession for him. His enthusiasm was limitless. So there
was a way for him and he followed it, first at random with
a pottering profession, and with the money he earned with
pottery he attended courses in ballet, acrobatics,
theater, music and dance. In 1954 he meets with the mime Marcel Marceau in Paris and was his
pupil, then member of his group until 1958.
born in 1923, opening gesture
with rose: "Dreaming is acting in silence."
always was his idol, "and I had always said to myself to
do the same as he did but as a clown: I wanted to put into
scene all possible clowneria." At the end of the 1950ies
Dimitri returned to Ticino and from now on went on with
playing alone on stage.
Modest but not without a certain pride Dimitri ensures
that he is the only clown in a circus with a theater
education. From 1970 on this is the case. Fredy Knie senior,
director of the Swiss national circus at that time with the
same name, he sees the clown in action and decides: He
wants him under his circus dome.
Fredy Knie senior
-- the programs
-- the animal scenes
-- the artists
-- the clowns.
[The career of his children - writer friends Grass
and Frisch, model Miller]
Dimitri passes three seasons with the circus, two times in
company of his wife Gunda
and with four children. "The circus is an art's
world with some middle-class element:
A circus is an independent
village, a migrating village." Dimitri can feel himself
with his children totally at home; and they get the same
virus from the father. David
and Masha passed
an artistry school of Budapest, and they are active under
different circus domes and pass tours around the whole
world. After that they follow the father on his way into
the inner life, they leave the arena and mainly are
playing in theaters . Nina,
the youngest, sings folksongs and plays the guitar and the
Charango: 10 stringed
guitar from Bolivia and Northern Argentina.
But Dimitri has also other artistic ideas which please to
him: He is painting, reading, visiting museums and is
reading books of writer friends like Gunther Grass and Max Frisch. "I am
nourishing myself with art, and I enjoy it as it would be
nectar", he said. In his
young years Dimitri
could jump the somersault backwards and dance on the
rope, and he has the courage to step on the elephants
until today in the age of 70. He is not an entertainment
artist only: He is a poet. In connection with this he
often cites Henry Miller:
"A clown is an acting poet."
On stage Dimitri lets disappear the frontiers between
circus and theater. The clown of the arena - who is
cheerful and sad, or is stumbling and breaking some teeth
- this clown handles also well the language of comedy. His
"Nonna" - which is nothing other than the origin
grandmother of all comedians wrapped into frills - can
enchant his public until today as he would be 20 years
[The film "Dimitri - Clown"]
Dimitri has such a rich life that
he cannot tell all in some hours, even less in 80 minutes
only. But this is the length of the band. This long is the
documentary with the signature of Friedrich Kappeler
coming into the Swiss cinemas. But since the opening night
of "Dimitri - Clown"
in Zurich Dimitri is a bit frustrated he assures, because
there should have been so much to be told yet.
film producer Friedrich Kappeler, portrait.
But in these circumstances he can dream of an own film
yet, a tragic comical work, poetic, about a station-master
- a silent movie, if it's possible in black and white.
[The scene shall be a shut down railway station in
Ticino and an empty railway station with a lost
"So I said to my producer: You see, Kaurismäki comes
here, makes the mute and has a great success with it,
think about it a little bit."
The film "Dimitri - Clown": Dimitri, family, elephants,
and a dream of a film
Film from Friedrich Kappeler - with Dimitri; Switzerland
2004, 80 min., dialect, K/8, documentary, start in the
cinemas: 2004-11-11; from:
(translation by Michael Palomino).
In his first film after the hit with the public "Mani Matter
- why are you so sad?" [orig.: MANI MATTER - WARUM
SYT DIR SO TRUURIG?] the Swiss stage director Friedrich Kappeler gives
an insight to us about the poetic universe of the man
Dimitri. DIMITRI - CLOWN tells us the story of Dimitri and
his stories, shows us how Dimitri lives, lets us take part
on his development and work, on his models, on his thoughts,
on his musicality, on his imagination of poetry and circus
as an entire work of art. And Dimitri proofs with it that he
is an awoken contemporary though.
Dimitri with his wife Gunda and 5 children.
Very important for Dimitri is his family, his wife Gunda and the five
children. The film shows what the children are doing, how
they had there youth and which relation they have to their
parents today. Add to this the passionate relationship
between Dimitri and the elephants is shown.
And at the end there is a big dream of Dimitri: The dream of
the own cinema as his model Chaplin could have it. That's why in
DIMITRI - CLOWN we meet not only an angel or a devil he
wears on his face but also a tragic and comical
station-master lost on his position becoming an art of film
Dimitri: With 70 years furthermore active and full
from: SwissInfo: Dimitri's 70th birthday and 35 years
theater (orig.: Dimitri fête ses 70 ans et les 35 ans de son
théâtre), 2005-09-17; from:
siteSect=105&sid=6094619; (translation by Michael
The 18th September Dimitri will celebrate his 70th birthday.
The famous "sad clown" will become a honorary citizen
e village Verscio in
Ticino where is his theater, his school and his Dimitri
museum "Museo Comico".
Three festival days are intended.
Dimitri with the guitar as a "sad clown" /
Dimitri was born in Ascona
(TI) on 18th September 1935 with his proper name Dimitri Jakob Müller in
an artist's family. His father was a sculptor, his mother
made fabric sculptures. Dimitry knew with seven years
already that he will make other people laugh. But his
official name has been Jakob
Dimitri for years.
In the beginning of the 70ies he is arranging oneself with
his wife Gunda in
the village Verscio.
The pair has five children. Three of them, David, Masha and Nina,
make an artist career. Mathias
is a designer and Ivan
is working for the Red Cross.
With 70 years the Ticino clown can also celebrate other
jubilees: 35 years for his theater, 30 years for his school,
and 5 years for his "Museo
Comico" [comedy museum].
Samuel Becket: "The last band"
40 years ago the Swiss writer Max Frisch
that Dimitri would be an "important clown".
A quotation from Max
Max Frisch, portrait
"Look at him, I say, it's really a clown. What is a real
clown? This I don't know, but look at him: He can
already do many things and always more and more things,
and then he feels well in his soul when he is succeeding
in doing even more things, even the unbelievable. One
enjoys it like a child who is detecting all malice of
all things and - it's a wonder - does not fall. In every
moment I'm attentive, but then always somebody was
laughing as if he were alone, not like a laugh about a
joke, but as a laugh like a child; this was I and the
clown's name is Dimitri."
Despite of his age the reputation of Dimitri is not going
down. He shows his capabilities on stage amongst others
play of Samuel Becket
"Krapp's last tape
The opening night has been on 6th July in Verscio already.
"I'm happy that I can play with 70 years yet and that I
can present myself on stage yet", Dimitri tells during a
meal. As "Krapp" in "Krapp's last tape"
the clownesque and
the tragi comical of the role is attracting him.
This man who was pupil of Marcel Marceau
, the greatest mime on the
world, who visited him by the way, this man will have
performances above all in Zurich and in Basel, but he will
be seen on posters also in Germany.
Though the home port of Dimitri will be Verscio
village of 982 souls near Locarno
which name has become famous in
the scene of the theater amateurs in Switzerland and
Europe. In 1970 the clown and his wife founded a theater
there, in 1975 a school, in 1978 their Compagnia, and in
2000 a comical museum "Museo
Dimitri and Gunda.
"I have almost finished my work" says Dimitri, "but I have
always new ideas!" There are plentiful projects in the
clown's head whereas his hairstyle is always compared with
the one of the foreign minister Micheline Calmy-Rey
. The 70 year old man
wants to realize a "comical poetic" film yet, and a
jester's park, more he is not saying.
portrait with a smile
federal council of Switzerland
and foreign minister of Switzerland
Human by nature
During the conversation he thinks on another scene: Doing as
if he would fall asleep and would leave the world for doing
good things. Simply like this. The spectators would leave
the hall and think "he has really died" and all would make
jokes about it.
Behind his mask as a clown is a man: human by nature,
who is often occupied with the idea of death believing in
reincarnation. In his social engagement he was always on the
side of the disadvantaged people, on the side of asylum
seekers and of the homeless persons.
Dimitri in an interview: Cosmopolitan, the smile,
pacifist and helper
from: SwissInfo: Dimitri: The smile as a talent (orig.:
Dimitri: Das Lächeln als Talent), 2004 in occasion to the
film "Dimitri - Clown"; http://www.swissinfo.org/sfr/swissinfo.html?siteSect=105&sid=5419747;
for orientation in [squared brackets] by Michael
Dimitri with guitar playing a song
Dimitri as a mime, Dimitri as a clown. An encounter to
begin the new year with a smile. Swissinfo met the artist
occasion of the presentation of the Italian edition of his
[Dimitri in the teatrino - his attitude to life as a
cosmopolitan and his always understandable art]
Dimitri comes with his red scarf and his guitar and
welcomes us in his teatrino - shortly before the
presentation of his Italian edition of his biography
before being sold to the public.
swissinfo: People say often you are a Swiss German artist
who has changed to Ticino. What do you feel when you hear
Dimitri: I feel myself as a cosmopolitan and therefore I
am not committed to a special language. My birthplace is Ascona
, my ancestors
come from Russia
, and I
speak German and Italian. I feel international.
swissinfo: What is your position as a man and artist
between the national cultures?
Dimitri: Scene with a
D.: My art has it's base on the non verbal expression, on
the body language, on humor and on music, so that's a kind
of universal language. It is understood in all regions of
the world. So I don't feel to be committed to a certain
culture. I feel as a cosmopolitan.
swissinfo: The circus Knie made you famous. Do you feel
guilty for it? Though you write in your book that the
circus public would never go to theater?
D.: What concerns this aspect there should not be any
ambiguity from the beginning. The circus public is also
welcome in the theater. Though often it's a public which
is less interested in intellectual contents but is
enjoying more the popular spectacle. Thanks to my three
seasons in circus Knie I could get known to a greater
public and so I could lure the people into my theater.
[The smile and the joy of life on earth]
portrait with smile in his autobiography.
swissinfo: Your smile is your figurehead. How it resulted
like this, and how could you get known with it?
D.: I cannot say how my smile has resulted. Perhaps it's a
present from the gods, from nature or from my mother. And
it was probably my fate giving the talent for it. But this
is not enough. One has to develop the smile and to
keep it living. One has to utilize it, to foster it and to
use it in a positive way.
swissinfo: What do you think, do people in Switzerland
D.: Yes. I really believe that the public always is in the
mood for laughing simply because they love it. I also
believe that this is similar on the whole world. People
simply like to laugh. But when we compare Switzerland for
example with a country of Southern America we see that the
South Americans laugh even more instead of the poverty and
of the more difficult circumstances of life than the
Swiss. They have a joyance which we as Swiss do not
know whereas we feel better than they do.
swissinfo: Which place has love and humor in your life?
D.: Along my estimation humor and love belong together.
Because when in the humor or in the gag is no affection
for the other part so the whole will not function. Or it's
functioning but the effect of laugh is another one, a bad
laugh, a sarcastic, almost an evil laugh... I am
exaggerating now a little bit, but something like this
also exists in any case. One has to - so I think -
always to laugh by heart. I want to hit the heart and the
spirit of the people. From their voices should come a pure
smile or laugh. As it is the one of the children, innocent
[Mime and word - Marcel Marceau]
swissinfo: You even are a great mime, too. Which
relationship has got a mime to the words?
Pantomime of Marcel Marceau, frightened
D.: One says that mimes when they began to speak never
stop speaking... in some kind how I am doing it with you
at the moment. But all jokes aside. My great master Marcel Marceau
me that the facial expression can give a kind of
expression which is much more intensive, stronger, more
impressionable and more emotional. He always said to me
that the great feelings of the human beings would be
better expressed without any word. That's the case for
love, hatred, pain and joy.
[Dimitri: Pacifist and helper for the weaks]
swissinfo: What are you angry about? Also in the aspects
of feelings and behavior?
D.: I hardly bear hatred, aggressiveness, dissimulation,
war, absence from dialogue and from understanding. And I
do not bear the absence of respect and of tolerance
towards people who are otherwise than we are either.
swissinfo: You always were an active man, an irreplaceable
companion of chaplain Cornelius
, a lawyer of fugitives and disadvantaged
people. How you rate the human policy of Switzerland of
D.: The useless wars which are mantling our world make me
very sad. They hit me personally and are shown in the fate
of women, men, children and of whole nations. That's why
me as an artist I would like to make a little contribution
by signing petitions, protests and manifests and
demonstrate for it publicly. That's why I helped also
Cornelius Koch as much as I could, the chaplain of the
[Peace work: "The sea consists of nothing but drops"]
Dimitri poster against discrimination of
handicapped people for the vote of 2003:
"People's vote of 18th of May 2003. Dimitri is a
clown and an artist ans detects artificial
barriers always again - also for not handicapped
people. YES for free access, YES to the
initiative about handicapped people."
swissinfo: How do you estimate the role and the work of
the intellectuals for the civil society in this country?
A drop of peace
D.: I think that the artists and the intellectuals in
Switzerland are active enough. Surely their voice is only
a drop falling into the sea. But the sea consists of nothing but drop
For example I think of the Geneva initiative. There the
civil society is campaigning for the reopening of the
peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. This is a
project that federal council Micheline Calmy-Rey
swissinfo: You mentioned Calmy-Rey. Many
people see something common in the smile of you both...
D.: Yes, that's right. There are light similarities. It's
not only the kind of the smile, but also the hairstyle.
When we met on the Locarno film festival we had a very
good conversation and furthermore we understood each other
swissinfo, Françoise Gehring
(Translation from Italian: Alexander Künzle)