Dangling Family: Two Teatro ZinZanni artists serve up comedy in midair.
Teatro ZinZanni is meticulous when it comes to hiring its waitstaff. Potential employees must go through dance and improvisation auditions, as well as have excellent communication and service skills. Somehow, Yogi Mohr and Sabine Maier got hired anyway.
During a typical evening's performance, Yogi flits from table to table, meticulously moving a fork over by an inch, then changing his mind and returning it to its original position. His overcompensation is balanced only by Sabine's complete apathy. When she sees an empty glass, she grudgingly pours in a drop or two of water, then walks away. If she's feeling particularly generous, she may come back and provide two more. Their service is far worse than anything you'd find dining during the graveyard shift at a 24-hour greasy spoon.
Of course it's a guise. Sabine and her husband Yogi are actually Die Maiers, a comedic trapeze duo from Berlin. It's easy to be duped by them in TZZ's current production, Quest for a Queendom, because they look nothing like the musclemen or wispy women who typically make up the circus world. Sabine gave birth to the couple's third child just a couple of years ago. Yogi is a gangly man who looks a lot like my junior-high math teacher. So it's surprising as hell when these seemingly regular folks in their 40s begin swinging from ropes like superheroes.
"We look normal," Yogi says, grinning. "We don't even go to the gym. We just do warmups and practice our routine."
Yet the highlight of Die Maiers' act is not their physical strength but their ability to incorporate circus and comedy. They began developing their quirky waiter and waitress characters 20 years ago while studying at École Sans Filet, a prestigious circus skills and performing arts school in Brussels. At the time, traditional big-top-style circuses were diminishing in popularity in Europe and being replaced by more sophisticated efforts like Cirque de Soleil.
"We wanted to incorporate adult entertainment into the circus and make it exciting for everyone," Sabine explains. "The characters we play are just as important as the trapeze act. It's a newer, more entertaining form of circus."
But the Die Maiers don't exude the sensuality so prevalent in the acts featured in Cirque de Soleil (or ZinZanni, for that matter). Instead, they're playful and impish, their routine peppered with physical humor and a running gag that's like a human version of Pepé le Pew and Penelope Pussycat.
When Yogi's character isn't worrying about table aesthetics, he's gazing adoringly at Sabine. The smitten waiter dances, juggles, and lip-synchs to Prince's "Kiss" to get her attention. Sabine's waitress is unimpressed and rebuffs him. The chase continues even when the two are dangling upside down 24 feet above the floor. As Yogi grasps Sabine's wrists so she can somersault through the air, he also gallantly attempts to keep her skirt from falling so the audience can't see her underwear. The unappreciative waitress looks as though she's considering jumping to get away from him.
Offstage, Sabine and Yogi get along far better than their characters. They live with their three children in a pre-furnished home near Alki Beach, provided by TZZ. And despite enjoying their four-month stint in Seattle, the eccentric couple look forward to returning to their Berlin home. "We have a trapeze in our kitchen," Sabine says. "We can't always control our housing situation when we are traveling, but we made sure to get our own home with very high ceilings." 19.08.08
Teatro ZinZanni trapezists juggle unusual career with stable family life.
Joachim "Yogi" Mohr and Sabine Maier are "Die Maiers," German trapeze pros who appear so hapyless, so eager to please, so jittery and tentative, it makes the skin crawl to watch them. Yet it's almost impossible not to. Amid all the gaiety and flash of ZinZanni's three-hour dinner-cabaret spectacle, they stick out like vegans in a steakhouse. Herr Maier plays the beseeching waiter in coke-bottle glasses, wandering the floor of ZinZanni's "Moulin Rouge" spiegeltent with an inane grin as he serves dinners and drinks. Frau Maier is the forlorn frump in maid's outfit, a walking advertisement for Zoloft. She never cracks a smile, never. So when the "Die Maiers" fumble over tables and chairs, stick up a ladder, and start grabbing for the trapeze, pale, wide-eyed in terror, the audience catches its collective breath, taken in by their sly awkwardness. "We always want it to look like an accident," says Mohr, who describes their act as aerial tomfoolery.
... And then Herr and Frau Maier's performance up in the top of the circus tent is a the source of great hilarity that nonetheless derives from great artistic ability. Again and again they try to pull each other up, again and again the attempt fails, the man hangs upside down, the woman manages by a hair to grasp one of his limbs. To avoid falling in the midst of all this chaotic wrestling, every hold must be exact, every movement be agreed on and yet the impression the performance gives is one of great ease.
The biggest surprise generally comes at the end, and in the mirror-tent it is "The Maiers", whose hair-raising acrobatics take place on the trapeze high above the guests' heads. Accompanied by huge applause and stamping feet, their number is the lead-in to the finale three hours into the show.
HNA Kassel : ... the metamorphosis: Grumpy Frau Maier and hapless Herr Maier are transformed into artists. First-class performers. Way up in the top of the tent, on the trapeze, they dance in the air ...
Berliner Zeitung: Much to the audiences' pleasure, "The Maiers" on the trapeze have still not conquered their fear of heights ...
ORGAN Show business:
Of course there are highlights in this show that bring the audience to life, especially in the case of the screwball trapeze acrobatics performed by "The Maiers" from Berlin. The way the couple twist and tangle, the way Frau Maier attempts to free her clothing caught up due to her partner's clumsiness - it is great comedy and remarkable acrobatics.
tip - Magazin, Berlin:
... the two "Maiers" are a couple of problem children. Anyone who knows these dyed-in-the-wools from Berlin's Hackesche Höfe knows that their slapstick holds out stubbornly until the final straw. Only when all hope is lost do they prove their great artistic ability.
Then there were "The Maiers", who showed a wild and wonderful mixture of humour and virtuoso trapeze antics.
tip - Magazin, Berlin:
And then, sometime after the interval, comes the number that makes the entire evening worthwhile. When prude Frau Maier (Sabine Maier) clambers up into the heights of the theatre with the assistance of Herr Maier (Joachim Mohr), standing first on a chair and table, then by means of a pair of green corduroy trousers, when the couple tumble around each other and around the narrow trapeze, their movements choreographed down to the finest detail, that is when, for a short moment, there is a perfect match between intention and effect. That is when the audience sitting in the candle-lit Camäleon Varieté get goose-bumps.
The "Maiers"" describe their trapeze and juggling act as "air and floor tomfoolery". He wears a permanent daft grin behind his half-inch thick glasses, she remains gloomy and doesn't bat an eyelid. Their number is the high-point of the evening. Over chairs, tables and trouser-legs they clamber unsteadily to the trapeze beneath the roof, and then proceed to save each other from falling in turn, wide-eyed and white with fear. As she hangs upside down he earnestly pulls the skirt over her knees - to no avail, of course.