AVIGNON mon amour
Diverse and clever, this arts festival is as charming as its southern French setting.
Tourists wander through
The 2011 edition, its 65th, offered more than 40 shows, totalling 300 performances, at venues in and outside the town. Many were French or even world premieres.
The ticket prices were lower than would be for a similar event in
Perhaps there's a lesson in this for our Culture Ministry: Festivals—national or international—can't carry on at high quality without significant government support.
People queued for a chance to buy any tickets returned by earlier purchasers. This was a familiar sight.
Apart from conventional indoor, air-conditioned theatres, the organisers took advantage of the summer weather to transform outdoor courtyards and sports facilities for performances, with the directors adjusting accordingly and skilfully.
The festival features exhibitions with content relevant to the shows, and a bookstore stocked with materials by and about the performers.
Every day there are lectures and discussions, and anyone, not just the press, could attend press conferences and meet the artists.
You rarely find these supportive elements at festivals in
I'll never forget the sight of hundreds of people streaming towards the courtyard of the Popes' Palace at 4am one day to see "
This concert of 14th-century polyphonic music, set to contemporary dance by Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker, began in darkness and made clever use of the sunrise. The 2,000-seat temporary theatre was packed.
There were new French plays—Pascal Rambert's "Clôture de l'amour", Cyril Teste's "Sun", Sophie Perez and Xavier Boussiron's "Oncle Gourdin" and Arthur Nauzyciel's adaptation of Yannick Haenel's novel "Jan Karski".
There were new translations and adaptations of foreign works, like the classic Swedish drama "Mademoiselle Julie", with Juliette Binoche as a star magnet; the Spanish political drama "L'Ent Tement"; and the Russian comedy "Le Suicide".
There were artistic "adventures" everywhere. Many shows combined dance, drama, music and video. Even the seemingly straightforward-realistic plays like "Clôture de l'Amour", "Mademoiselle Julie" and "Je suis le vent" made striking use of the scene settings.
With 90 per cent of the audience being French, it's of course understandable (as well as educational for foreigners) that most of the plays were performed in French, without translations.
English synopses were provided for some shows, though, and there were works by American choreographers William Forsythe and Meg Stuart and the Nature Theatre of Oklahoma. "Je suis le vent", a new piece by French director Patrice Chéreau, was actually presented in English with French surtitles.
This primarily theatrical festival has begun offering contemporary dance, a nod to the global trend in erasing the line between dance and drama. Oddly, many festivals, especially in
The dancing at
He also staged two very different works—"Enfant" at the Popes' Palace and "Levée des conflits" on a football pitch across the river.
In other words, the festival managed to honour tradition as well as look forward into the future at the same time.
For more than three decades Le Festival d'Avignon has been accompanied by a fringe festival called Le Off. Smaller in scale and with a wider variety of performances, it opens each day as early as 9am and continues past midnight.
Interestingly, it didn't feel like two festivals competing, but in fact complementing one another beautifully.
Le Off may not be as large as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in
Avignon isn't a big city, so there's little else happening there in July apart from the dual festivals, but the artists of Off—younger and less well-known than those of In—keep the streets bustling all day. Passers-by gawk at their short skits and snag a brochure promoting their shows.
In his new book French Theatre Today, MIT professor Edward Baron Turk notes that, in 2009, the average visitor to Avignon stayed for eight days and saw 11 shows at Off and two at In.
I got from one show to the next in less than 10 minutes on average—and that’s impossible in
The writer's trip was fully supported by the French Embassy. He thanks in particular cultural attaché Stéphane Négrin, an
written by Pawit Mahasarinand
published in THE NATION on Saturday 30th July, 2011
photos courtesy of Festival d'Avignon
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