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Teatro Comico, school and museum at Verscio
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Dimitri, a spiritual satisfied life in circus ring and on stage as a clown

Dimitri, Signet Dimitri on an elephant giving

Articles from arte, swissinfo and riffraff

Dimitri: http://www.clowndimitri.ch/ - Dimitri on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/clowndimitri?fref=ts
Dimitri family: http://famigliadimitri.ch/de/zum-stueck/ - Dimitri Family on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/famigliadimitri



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Dimitri, clown!

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 (translation 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:

Dimitri: Scene with
                        mini trumpet
Dimitri: Scene with
                        mini accordeon
Dimitri: Scene with mini trumpet
Dimitri: Scene 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.

Marcel Marceau,
                        born in 1923, opening gesture
Marcel Marceau mit

Marcel Marceau, born in 1923, opening gesture
Marcel Marceau with rose: "Dreaming is acting in silence."

Marcel Marceau 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
Fredy Knie senior
Circus Knie: Logo
Circus Knie: Logo
-- 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:

Charango: 10 stringed
                            guitar in form of a belly from Northern
                            Argentina and Bolivia
Charango: 10 stringed guitar from Bolivia and Northern Argentina.
 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 with virtuosity.

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 old.

[The film "Dimitri - Clown"]

                          film producer Friedrich Kappeler, portrait
Swiss documentary film producer Friedrich Kappeler, portrait.

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.

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 station-master].

"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."

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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:  http://www.riffraff.ch/index.html?/Programm/Filme/Film0370.html (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

Dimitri with his wife Gunda and 5
Dimitri with his wife Gunda and 5 children.

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.

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 clown.

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Dimitri: With 70 years furthermore active and full of ideas

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: http://www.swissinfo.org/sfr/swissinfo.html? siteSect=105&sid=6094619; (translation by Michael Palomino).

The 18th September Dimitri will celebrate his 70th birthday. The famous "sad clown" will become  a honorary citizen of th

Dimitri with the guitar as a "sad
                        clown" / "clown triste".
Dimitri with the guitar as a "sad clown" / "clown triste".

e village Verscio in Ticino where is his theater, his school and his Dimitri museum "Museo Comico". Three festival days are intended.

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 wrote that Dimitri would be an "important clown".

A quotation from Max Frisch:

Max Frisch portrait
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."
(aus: http://www.riffraff.ch/index.html?/Programm/Filme/Film0370.html)

Despite of his age the reputation of Dimitri is not going down. He shows his capabilities on stage amongst others in the 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.

Numerous projects

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 forever, a 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 Comico".

Dimitri and
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.


Dimitri portrait
                          with a smile

Federal counsil
                          of Switzerland Micheline Calmy-Rey with a
                          smile Micheline Calmy-Rey, foreign
                          minister of Switherland
Dimitri portrait with a smile
Micheline Calmy-Rey, 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.


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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; subheadings for orientation in [squared brackets] by Michael Palomino.

Dimitri with guitar playing a
                          song without mask.
Dimitri with guitar playing a song without mask.
Dimitri as a mime, Dimitri as a clown. An encounter to begin the new year with a smile. Swissinfo met the artist in  Verscio near Locarno on the occasion of the presentation of the Italian edition of his autobiography.

[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 this?

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 Switzerland, 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 deck
Dimitri: Scene with a
deck chair.

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]

Dimitri portrait with smile
                          in his autobiography
Dimitri 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 laugh enough?

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 and benevolent.

[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 gesture
Pantomime of Marcel Marceau, frightened gesture.

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 teached 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 Koch, a lawyer of fugitives and disadvantaged people. How you rate the human policy of Switzerland of today?

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 fugitives.

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."
                          poster against discrimination of handicapped
                          people for the vote of 2003

[Peace work: "The sea consists of nothing but drops"]

swissinfo: How do you estimate the role and the work of the intellectuals for the civil society in this country?

A drop of peace
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 drops. 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 is promoting.
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 at best.

swissinfo, Françoise Gehring
(Translation from Italian: Alexander Künzle)

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Picture index

-- Dimitri on an elephant giving bananas: from: http://www.arte-tv.com/fr/art-musique/special-cirque/723116,CmC=724062.html

-- Dimitri: Scene with mini trumpet and mini accordion: http://www.teatrodimitri.ch/it/52.htm

-- Marcel Marceau, born 1923, opening gesture: from: http://www.spiritproject.de/home/personality/we/marcel_marceau.htm

-- Marcel Marceau with rose: "Dreaming is acting in silence." aus: http://univerval.free.fr/rever.htm

-- Fredy Knie senior: from: http://www.neudorfstrasse.ch/news/news_03/news_03_12.htm

-- Circus Knie: Symbol: from: http://www.houska.ch/knie/infos.html

-- Charango: 10 stringed guitar from Northern Argentina and from Bolivia: http://www.musicareas.com/etnicos/charango.phtml

-- Swiss film producer Friedrich Kappeler, portrait: aus: http://www.gong.ch/Portait/

-- Dimitri with his wife Gunda and 5 children: from: http://www.riffraff.ch/index.html?/Programm/Filme/Film0370.html

-- Dimitri with a guitar as "sad clown" / "clown triste": http://www.swissinfo.org/sfr/swissinfo.html? siteSect=105&sid=6094619

-- Max Frisch portrait: http://www.elcolibri.de/colibri13.htm

-- Dimitri and Gunda: from Dimitri

-- Dimitri portrait with a smile: from: http://www.gsoa.ch/armee/ausland/kampagne/statements.html

-- Micheline Calmy-Rey, federal council and foreign minister of Switzerland: aus: http://www.sp-links.ch/BRWahl/MCR.htm (2005)

http://www.armee.vbs.admin.ch/internet/armee/de/home/gebinfbr12/0.html (2005)

-- Dimitri with guitar playing a song without mask and Dimitri portrait in his autobiography: aus: http://www.swissinfo.org/sfr/swissinfo.html?siteSect=105&sid=5419747

-- Dimitri: Scene with a deck chair: from: http://www.gala-dimitri.ch/dimitri.html

-- Pantomime of Marcel Marceau, frightened gesture: from: http://www.muenchenticket.de/vorstellung.jsp;jsessionid=A9124492B34163F2DBDE08B8531DD9BF?id=102933

-- Dimitri against discrimination of handicapped people for the vote in 2003: http://www.zslschweiz.ch/Archiv/Texte/VI%20-%20Information.htm

-- A drop of peace: from: http://www.hgg-heidelberg.de/swh/wasser/wassersparen.html

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