18.9.1935 at 09.30 a.m. Dimitri was born in Ascona, Vicolo Ghiriglione (opposite the theatre of puppeteers which later will be his first stage), son of the sculptor and architect Werner Jakob Müller and the handweaver and artisan Maja, born Tschirren. Due to the close proximity of the Teatro San Materno which belonged to the dancer Charlotte Bara, Dimitri got in touch in his early childhood, with the world of expressionist dance. In 1942Dimitri enters primary school, scuola elementare, in Ascona and it’s here at the Circus Knie he sees the clown Andreff and realises that being a clown can be a profession. From this moment on he is certain that he wants to become a clown.
Then in 1951 Dimitri starts his apprenticeship as a potter at the atelier of Margrit Linck in Reichenbach/Berne. Dimitri lives with his mother and sister first in Berne, then near Zollikofen. Margrit Linck’s husband, the well known sculptor Walter Linck, influences Dimitri’s artistic development during his frequent visits to the pottery. In his spare time, Dimitri produces his own pottery which his dance and acrobatic teacher Max Lüem sells for him. Besides his training with Lüem, he also frequents courses in recitation with Mrs. Toni von Tuason and clarinet lessons at the Academy of Music with Willy Tautenhahn. On advice of his former recitation teacher at the Steiner Schule in Zurich, he contacts Ilja Duwan of the Theater am Nydeggstalden with the idea of learning and working there, but this never really suited him. So he starts playing different comic roles in the student theatre groups of Thomas Nyffeler and Rolf Maeder; at the second one he acts with Harald Szeemann. With his sister Ninon he plays cabaret scenes written by Jakob Flach, the director of the puppeteer theatre in Ascona. In that same period he creates his own “very first” clown acts which he presents at different occasions, i.e. at the Academy of Music, and although never having seen a mime before he also invents his first mime act.
In the remaining time he frequents the theatres of the town as a spectator, sees the solo cabaret of Harald Szeemann, meets artists like Meret Oppenheim, Otto Nebel and Otto Tschumi, writers like Sergius Golowin and actors as Adolph Spalinger. After a show with Voli Geiler and Walter Morath he tells them that he wants to become a clown. Morath answered: “Yes, you really have the face of Punch, from “Punch & Judy”. In a small theatre he sees “Comment attraper les désirs par la queue”, the only play written by Pablo Picasso and there, among others, meets Daniel Spoerri. Still during his stay in Berne he sees for the first time Marcel Marceau – one of the strongest influrnces on his future career. Another determinating factor in his career was seeing Grock perform in his own circus on the Allmend of Berne.
In 1955 Dimitri attends, in Paris, his first course with the mime Etienne Decroux he does acrobatic training with Monsieur Bono, a circus artist, he studies the guitar with flamenco musicians, takes lessons in harmony, ballet, georgian and basque folkdances, the latter with Irina Grjebina. He gets a role as a clownesque intruder in a dance production at the Palais de Chaillot. During a short stay in Sweden where he works as a potter, he takes classes with the artistic gymnast Jens Welling, probably the only man who was able to jump a standing summersault on one leg.
It was in 1958 that finally Dimitri meets Marcel Marceau in Paris. Marceau immediately invites him to participate in a beginning mime course and after the end of the course he engages him for his company. He takes part in two productions, Les matadors and Le petit cirque, directed by and with the participation of Marceau himself. Together with Marceau who for the preparation of his appearance in La piste aux étoiles wants to learn wire walking, Dimitri takes wire walking lessons with Goga Rosetti. Rosetti then suggests to create a duo act with Dimitri, and finds him an engagement with the Cirque Medrano, but one day before the first show Rosetti has to retire for reasons of health. The clown Maïss who had observed Dimitri during his training, engages him as his partner and they start rehearsing immediately.
Before starting to perform with Maïss, Dimitri goes home for a holiday, in Ticino. In the Casa d’Italia in Locarno he sees The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams under the direction of Raimondo Rezzonico (later president of the Film Festival Locarno). Franco Passatore, one of the actors, proposes to have a play written with Dimitri in the leading role. So, in only three weeks, Passatore’s friend Ettore Gaipa writes L’angelo clown. The play, with the direction of Passatore, is performed from March 10 to 22.
On his way back to Paris, on July 14, the first day of his professional engagement as a clown, partner of Maïss (who had been for long years Grock’s partner), he learns that this very day Grock had died. Maïss, Dimitri and Pastis perform first in the Cirque Medrano, then in a small travelling circus, in the North of France. When the circus director ran away with the cash-box, the circus was bankrupt and Dimitri returns to Switzerland.
Jumping to 1969 Fredy Knie Senior invites Dimitri to go on tour with Circus Knie. Dimitri accepts and starts preparing his new acts and above all, rehearsing with the female elephant Sandry. The tour with Circus Knie starts in March 1970 and also starts family life in the trailer. Dimitri is the first clown to come from theatre to the circus successfully and not least because of the solid confidence of Fredy Knie. Many prominent personalities come to see the show and meet Dimitri afterwards in the reception-trailer, such as Peter Ustinov, Carl Zuckmayer and Friedrich Dürrenmatt. Jean Tinguely, after having seen Dimitri performing, sends him one of his drawn letters and proposes to create a circus act together with one of his famous moving sculptures. First encounter with Charlie Chaplin in Vevey, later with François Billetdoux in Paris and Eugène Ionesco in St. Gallen.
The first book on Dimitri appears in the Benteli Verlag, Berne: Clown Dimitri – Ich. This is the beginning of a friendship with the painter and editor Ted Scapa who also encourages Dimitri to go on and develop his talent in painting. Then in1971 Dimitri and his wife Gunda found the Teatro Dimitri in Verscio/Ticino, with a capacity of 90 seats. Now, not only Dimitri can perform on his own stage, but also guest artists can be invited: Avant et Perdu (later known as Mummenschanz), the filmmaker Fredi Murer, the songwriter Mani Matter, the Stalder Quintett, the Spanish singer Carmela, the songwriter Hans Peter Treichler and the singer, actor Gianni Esposito.
For the third time in 1979 he goes on tour with Circus Knie. Then in 1984 Dimitri performs in the Big Apple Circus in New York City, where also his son David is performing. They then Tour through Spain and later in the year to Argentina (Buenos Aires) and Mexico.
It’s in 1989 that Dimitri takes an idea of a pantomime by W.A. Mozart, Dimitri creates the piece for the Compagnia Teatro Dimitri and plays the part of Mozart a double part Mozart/Arlecchino. In the movie Anna Göldin – letzte Hexe by Gertrud Pinkus he plays the locksmith, a friend of Anna Göldin. Nearly ten years later in 1998 Dimitri writes a first Circus Tale as a storyline for the programme of Circus Monti. Others follow in 2001 and 2004. He also takes credit for direction, costumes and posters. 2000 see’s the inauguration of the Museo Comico in Verscio, curated by Harald Szeemann. Dimitri directs Nino Rota’s La lezione di guida, conducted by Maestro Graziano Mandozzi. 2002 Masha creates under her father’s direction her story-telling programme Le fil rouge. In Lucerne Dimitri directs Thüring Bräm’s opera Il gong magico, for which, together with Bernard Stöckli and Markus Kunz he also wrote the libretto. The opera is conducted by Jost Meier. The world première takes place at the Casino-Theater Zug. 2003 He develops for his daughter Nina the concept to her song programme La cantante delle piazze. Benteli Verlag publishes Dimitri. Der Clown in mir. Autobiographie mit fremder Feder, written by Hanspeter Gschwend (3rd edition 2005). In 2004 Le clown et les étoiles – Exhibition about Dimitri at the Musée Alexis Forel, Morges: paintings, costumes, posters, objects of his collections etc. The French translation of his autobiography Dimitri. Le clown en moi is published by Editions d’en bas, Lausanne, and the Italian one Dimitri. Il clown in me at Rezzonico Editore SA, Locarno. The Scuola Teatro Dimitri is now recognized as a theatrical College focused primarily on theatre movement and theatrical creation. T & C Film produces the 85 minutes cinema-documentary Dimitri – Clown, under the direction of Friedrich Kappeler. 2005 Continuation of the exhibition Il clown e le stelle in a fuller version at the Casorella, Locarno. Dimitri plays Krapp’s Last Tape by Samuel Beckett in a clownesque version, directed by Thomas Hostettler. Tipografia Poncioni realizes Clown Fantasy, a book with 366 paintings by Dimitri. Jubilee-Gala at the Schauspielhaus Zurich: 70 years Dimitri, 35 years Teatro Dimitri, 30 years Scuola Teatro Dimitri, 5 years Museo Comico. The municipality made Dimitri honorary citizen of Verscio.
Then in 2006 a dream becomes reality: together with his daughters Masha and Nina, his son David and his son-in-law Kai Leclerc he creates and presents the burlesque show La Famiglia Dimitri which is a huge success on Broadway New York.
Now at the age of 79 he presents the first performance of the new family project DimiTRIgenerations in the KKL Lucerne, followed by over 60 other shows in sold out halls and theatres. From 18th to 20th September Dimitri celebrates his 80th Birthday in Verscio, with a colourful party, together with the public, the students of his school and his family.
After his 80thbirthday celebrations, Dimitri is now playing at the Sogni di un’altra vita: This open-air theatre tells the story of Monte Verità, based on a text from Hanspeter Gschwend. Dimitri plays the role of Karl Vester. The première takes place on 16th July. On 18th July in the sold out Teatro Dimitri, together with his family, he presents DimiTRIgenerations.
Sadly on the evening of 19th July, after feeling slightly sick, he passes away, 80 years old.