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Mummenschanz - a unique mixture of acting, mime, dance, puppetry and magic - comes to Salt Lake City for the first time on Thursday, March 19. The Capitol Theatre event will take place at 8 p.m.

For more than 20 years, this whimsical trio from Zurich, Switzerland, has been a hit wherever it appeared. Actually the founders, Bernie Schurch and Andres Bossard, gave their first shows in 1969, usually in tiny student theaters. When they appeared in a garage theater in Rome's Trastavere district, Floriana Frassetto attached herself to the group. The three are still the mind and heart of Mummenschanz, which has taken on innumerable shapes and developed many ideas since those days.Major appearances began at the Avignon Festival in 1972, then on to the Edinburgh and Spoleto Festivals, to London, Paris, Rome, Berlin, Vienna, Prague, Madrid, Copenhagen, Amsterdam andBrussels. Beyond Europe, they appeared in South America, Japan, Israel and the USSR. In New York City, Mummenschanz performed for three years at the Bijou Theater, and came to town again in 1986.

Though the first shows had spoken sketches, Mummenschanz (whose name means masquerade or mummery) soon dropped speech to transcend the language barrier. Costumes are bold black and white, or often fantastic foam-rubber creations.

By 1980, the road-weary original trio trained a threesome of young mimes who are now carrying the "magical silence of Mummenschanz" around the world. This leaves the creators free to experiment and plan new heights for the company.

The program now touring the world is "The Best of Mummen-schanz," which in 1989 marked the 20th anniversary of the troupe.

Tina Kronis, born and raised in Florida, is one of the three who will appear in Salt Lake City. Kronis studied ballet, modern dance, jazz and surfing, joined Judi Jemison's Mimus for several years, then danced with New York modern dance companies. She was in "Mummenschanz, the New Show" in America for two seasons beginning in 1986, and after teaching for a couple of years, returned in 1990.

Also appearing in Salt Lake City are Barbara Karger, born in Vienna, who trained in Essen, Germany, performed with theater and opera companies, ran her own mime troupe, and joined Mummen-schanz in 1989. Completing the trio is Thomas Prattki, from Munster, Germany, where he studied dance. In Bonn he specialized in mime and mask performance and studied psychology, with focus on body and dance therapy. After engagements as a mimist in Milan, Cologne, and Paris, he too joined Mummenschanz in 1989.

Kronis talked by telephone from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, on the company's current tour.

"The show is imagery, it's visual, with no music, no talking, and it's not conventional mime," she said.

"Though the founding trio have branched out greatly, the original philosophy remains - to endow inanimate objects with life and character, show how industrial materials affect our era and how to look at them in a different way. All of this developed out of taking a fresh look at the uses of masks: Not just to cover faces, they can cover the whole body or part of the body; they can be manipulated from behind.

"Mummenschanz has put masks on the map, because the old kind of mask could make only one or a few changes - the mouth could move or the eyes could move. But Mummenschanz demonstrates how masks can transform people.

"We go through many metamorphoses during the show. At first you can't put your finger on what's going on, but then you realize, and you want these beings to change, for these fantastic creatures are indicative of the human struggle.

"The original three of Mummenschanz have an interesting, definitive philosophy, which they have stuck to without being swayed. They had doubts along the way about where they were going, but their basic philosophy remains the same, they have created a language all their own, and that's why they are Mummenschanz.

"They take a childlike view of the world. When I started with them I was pretty young, but I felt like they were much younger than me," she laughed.

"Children are born with those elements of playfulness and wonder. To a child, everything is a discovery - every leaf, every object - and it's that sense of wonder we hope we convey. Things that you wouldn't expect to be entertaining or poetic become so. You would never think that a piece of foam could be so beautiful, so funny, so sad. As adults we become jaded with things, but in the show we all become kids again."

Life with Mummenschanz is demanding, said Kronis. "We've had years of travel, of being tired, of being on stage two hours straight or getting changed quickly to go back on. Sometimes the costumes are heavy, we can't always see particularly well, we have to do all sorts of strange movements and try to make them look easy. But these have been years of growth, too. When each of us moves on to work with others, or go out on our own, these experiences will go with us."

The company is based in Zurich, with workshop and rehearsal space in a transformed factory, and the original trio stays there, working on other projects. "Last year was Switzerland's 700th anniversary, and Mummenschanz performed a lot - we were right up there with William Tell," Kronis laughed.

Mummenschanz has moved out into areas other than pure theater - Sesame Street, with the Muppets, on the Johnny Carson Show, and in music video. They have worked in a large-scale open-air production of "Faust" in Taormina, Sicily. Two former Mummen-schanz members were the main attraction of the 1988 tour of the Swiss National Circus Knie.

Tickets ($14 to $18) are available at the ArtTix box office in the Capitol Theatre, 355-ARTS; through Smith's Tix outlets, 467-5996, or at Kingsbury Hall. The concert is sponsored by the Associated Students at the University of Utah, Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company and the Space Agency.