Arts & Culture


Penguins are among the many kinds of animals to appear in ‘ZooZoo.’
Penguins are among the many kinds of animals to appear in ‘ZooZoo.’ PHOTO BY FRITZ LIEDTKE

Insomniac hippos, restaurant dining anteaters, game-playing penguins and other cavorting creatures will star in “ZooZoo,” an entertainment for all ages at the Cohan Center.

The costumes and masks are charming, and the situations fun and fanciful. But the creative energy of the show comes from the art of movement, said Jerry Mouawad, co-founder of Imago Theatre, in an interview from company headquarters in Portland, Ore.

“Motion brings the creatures to life in universal situations,” he said. “It’s about what it’s like to be alive, with life’s frustrations and complications.”

The movement is a combination of mime, dance, gymnastics and comedy.

“There are no words or narration, it’s more fluid,” Mouawad, said. “There are no messages … it’s the same as going to the zoo.”

The pieces vary in length and each piece has a beginning, middle and end, like short plays. The situations are immediately recognizable because the reactions of the characters are so familiar and intuitive. Humans and animals often react in the same way, and audience members can relate both physically and psychologically.

One of the universal situations is gravity, Mouawad explained: “Something as simple as a cup falling over on the table. … It’s larger than life onstage.”

The physical style of the company is based on the teachings of French movement master Jacques Lecoq. Mouawad and Carol Triffle, his wife and co-founder of Imago Theatre, studied with Lecoq, and Triffle was Lecoq’s assistant at one time. Lecoq’s methodology also influenced many other theater companies, among them Mummenschanz and Theatre du Soleil.

Offering an analogy, Mouawad said, Lecoq’s teachings were so basic to the arts of movement that “if you had been studying writing, he would have been teaching words.”

Imago Theatre’s performers have a range of talent, he noted. “They need to be athletic, good movers, with comic timing and stage presence. When we announce auditions, we ask for people with the grace of a dancer, the depth of an actor and the timing of a comedian.”

The five performers in “ZooZoo” are in their 20s and early 30s. Because the physical demands are high, most don’t want to do it after 40, Mouawad said.

“ZooZoo” is made up of the most popular pieces from the company’s earlier shows, “Frogz” and “Biglittlethings.” The process of developing a piece is to create, then rehearse and improvise.

“We revise. For example, the polar bears went through some variations until they decided what they wanted to do.”

The company workshopped two hours a day for eight weeks designing the rabbits’ four-minute piece. Some of the other creatures in the show include polar bears and frogs.

Not all of the characters are animals. “Windbags” is about accordions that come to life, from a hand-held size to 12 feet tall. Special effects are also used, such as blacklight in “Bug Eyes,” a fanciful piece about fireflies.

The original music is by Katie Griesar, who has been with the company for 10 years. It’s eclectic and appropriate for each segment, including toy instruments, classical, and circus music.

Mouawad and Triffle used to design and fabricate all the masks and costumes.

“Carol and I did our early work in a one-bedroom apartment. Our spaces grew until we were in the large building we have now,” Mouawad said. “Whether we do it ourselves depends on how large the project is—we do use other people. Now I might design a mask and someone else will complete it.”

“ZooZoo” is advertised for ages 4 and up, but Mouward said even younger children will enjoy it. The show is designed for all ages, and audiences enjoy it on different levels.