The Scarlet & Black

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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Masks take on new life

By Katherine Chung

Imagine a world where bulls dance on stilts, wild horses fly through the air and fish sit idly on buckets blowing bubbles out of pipes. On Saturday, Michael Cooper will bring this fantastical world  of wonder to Grinnell, along with his collection of oversized masks.

Cooper will pantomime his one-man show “Masked Marvels & Wondertales,” using only the simplest of props. Though the word mime may conjure up an image of a man in black and white stripes wearing a quizzical expression painted on his face, Cooper’s miming is that of an active storyteller with the help of his hand-crafted masks that transform him into fanciful characters, making words superfluous. According to Cooper’s webpage, he learned to mime from “Etienne Decroux, Paris’ master of mime who taught him how to lean on air.” It’s no surprise then that his mystical creatures can perform far more impressive feats, such as swinging a ten foot long leg over the audience without falling over backwards.

Cooper claims the expression “Art from junk!” as his own on his webpage. For instance, he constructed a mask called “The Wind” by attaching the hub of a retired bicycle wheel to the backside of the mask to allow it to spin and take on a new life.  Creating each mask requires over 300 hours according to Cooper, “calling for such bizarre attributes as smoking nostrils and periscopic vision.” All of Cooper’s masks are crafted from the same recyclable materials such as paper bags or old cloth. They are then “ripped into small pieces, dipped into glue, and then laminated over a carefully crafted clay sculpture,” according to Cooper’s website. Each of his masks, ranging from the baby—with which he “opens every show because innocence is irresistible” —to the chicken with a moveable beak, possesses unique charm and spirit.

Though Cooper may not speak during his performances, he incorporates plenty of effervescent music, adding dramatic flair that complements his bodily and facial expressions.

Through his whimsical performances rife with humor, piquancy and movement, Cooper has won the hearts of his audiences all over the world, from China to the Netherlands. His 30 years of experience as a storyteller, artist and comedian speak to his expertise and capacity of delighting people of all ages.

Michael Cooper will present “Masked Marvels & Wondertales at B.G. Voertman Theatre at the Grinnell Community Center (927 4th Ave) at 7:30 p.m. this Saturday. As a bonus, attendees  wearing their own masks can get special front-row seats. Tickets are $15 for adults and $5 for students and are available at Brown’s Shoe Fit, McNallys, Marketplace on Main, Grinnell Arts Center as well as at the door.

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