A stage for experimentation and encounters

(sda) It’s a sultry afternoon. Gray clouds hang over the Terra di Pedemonte, a dog is yapping in front of the church, and further down in the village a man is mowing the lawn.

Piano music can be heard from the high, open windows of the Accademia Teatro Dimitri, and drums set the rhythm for the contorted students. “Danza” is on the sign next to the door of the inconspicuous building.

It’s been half a century since the clown Dimitri, who died five years ago, founded a theater with around 100 seats in the basement under today’s inner courtyard. “I think that was the happiest time of my father. He was able to act independently down here,” says his son David Dimitri, who has been running the theater since 2016 and is head of the Dimitri Foundation, in an interview with Keystone-SDA.

As the clown became more famous, so did the crowd in the small theater in Verscio. Ten years after the founding, today’s theater space was built – a new building – which can accommodate twice as many spectators.

50 years have passed since the founding of the Teatro Dimitri. “In theory, you could say: ‘It’s been a wonderful 50 years’ and turn to new projects,” says David Dimitri during a conversation on the Teatro’s “Piazza Grande”. “But this is such a unique place that it would be inconceivable for me to withdraw.”

Dimitri lets his gaze wander over the inner courtyard. “Look at these walls: the paint is peeling off, yes, but they’re beautiful, they’re alive!” He would be afraid that an “external” theater management would repaint and change everything here. “But these are walls that speak.”

The time after the death of his father was very difficult for the siblings, says David Dimitri. Much has become insecure. Now, five years later, a new equilibrium has emerged. “The place is alive again. It’s a bit like my father is here.”

That is why he hopes for the future that the family will run the Teatro, which is committed to a non-verbal, burlesque tradition, for many years to come. That also simplifies a lot, for example the siblings could take turns on the line when one of them goes on tour.

Dimitri is convinced that the audience is also keen to preserve the soul of the theater – especially in such uncertain times as these. Last summer he would have felt a kind of “sigh of relief” from many visitors when they could come back to a performance and see that it was still exactly the same as it used to be. “That was extremely nice for us.”

Nevertheless, the theater should not become a memorial to the clown who died in 2016, his son says. “We want to preserve the spirit of Dimitri without becoming a memorial.”

As cocky as the slender tightrope walker slips into roles in front of the camera and mimes the clown, he weighs up his words carefully in conversation.

Despite the ongoing pandemic and only two-thirds occupancy, it was a very good summer for the theater, says Dimitri. In the coming season he is relying on the requirement to have a certificate: “People should be able to go to the theater again without a mask at some point.”

The future for smaller stages like his is not easy either way, with or without Corona, says Dimitri. “In any case, it is difficult for us to make ends meet without financial support.” Nevertheless, the theater is “very solid”.

In December, a house that has been fallow for a long time will be brought to life and gently renovated: The four-story “Casa del Clown” is to become a kind of “study island” for school classes, children and artists from all over the world who are keen to experiment. “40 years ago my father dreamed of receiving children in this house and giving them space for design,” says Dimitri.

And just as the theater has developed from a private company to an institution in the course of the first few decades, it should also be allowed to continue to change, says Dimitri. “This place should remain a wide-ranging theater ‘en miniature’.”

The juxtaposition of the most varied of contents gave the Teatro its character right from the start, says Dimitri. In the first few years Max Frisch and Günter Grass, the theater group Mummenschanz, the comedian Emil and the comedian Gardi Hutter made their very first stage appearances in the small theater in the Sopraceneri.

This wide-ranging “animation” of the theater is important to David Dimitri. “It is most beautiful here in the evening when guests and artists eat together in the inner courtyard and discuss things over a glass of Merlot or a good grappa,” says the artist with shining eyes.

He dreams of even more young artists taking their music to the theater and maybe singing Ticino songs together one day. Despite all the willingness to experiment, David Dimitri attaches great importance to a program with a certain depth. “If the spirit of the original theater remains, you can do anything here.”

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