Sometimes art defies definition.
Martin Zimmermann tries several words to describe "Hans was Heiri," the alternately zany, humorous, surrealistic stage work he and his artistic partner Dimitri de Perrot produce with their Switzerland-based troupe Zimmermann & de Perrot.
"We are doing our theatrics. We are not saying that we are doing a circus piece or a dance piece," Mr. Zimmermann said. "For us, it doesn't matter. We are just happy people start to think about life and themselves and if they have a discussion about what they saw."
The group will bring its unique concoction of dance, theater and circus to the August Wilson Center for African American Culture tonight through Friday as part of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts and the Pittsburgh Dance Council's 2013-14 season.
"Hans was Heiri" is an unorthodox examination of what makes things and people different -- or maybe not. Language doesn't easily define it, or even have much of a role in it.
"We are not telling a story," Mr. Zimmermann said. "There's just emotion."
Without language boundaries, the company's repertoire has enjoyed universal appeal and toured the world, attracting the attention of global media and dance greats such as Mikhail Baryshnikov.
What fuels it all is the 15-year connection of Mr. Zimmermann and Mr. de Perrot. Their skill sets and backgrounds complement one another; Mr. de Perrot is a self-taught musician and composer who later took to theater and directing, and Mr. Zimmermann studied set design and graduated with honors from the Centre National des Arts du Cirque in France.
"Together we build this kind of theatric piece, which we name more like a living sculpture, because it's never finished," Mr. Zimmermann said.
Life inspires their work. "I like observing people," he said.
The pair searches for performers who capture life's day-to-day diversities and abnormalities, preferring artists of different body types and sizes who possess a spectrum of skills and maturity.
"When they are not the norm, it's much more better."
In "Hans was Heiri," a handful of artists navigate a playground of furniture and moving set pieces.
"Furniture or a chair can also be a human being. It's also a magic world," Mr. Zimmermann said. "Everything that you see on stage, it's like a living person."
Performers are tasked with portraying character roles, which color the performance with humor, depth and heart.
"I hope when [audiences] are leaving the show they have the possibility to see the world different," Mr. Zimmermann said.
Sara Bauknecht: firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @SaraB_PG. First Published October 15, 2013 8:00 PM