AVIGNON, FRANCE | The 66th edition of the Avignon Festival, which runs from July 7 to 28, is almost over. This year’s associate artist is the actor and director Simon McBurney.
After studying with Jacques Lecoq in Paris, he returned to London where he founded his company Complicite, which knows no bounds, either geographic or artistic. McBurney’s choice to adapt, for the Cour d’honneur of the Popes’ Palace, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, reunites him the English writer John Berger, whose presence also marks this festival. The two men worked together to bring Berger’s novel The Three Lives of Lucie Cabrolto the stage. A poet, novelist and art critic, Berger has been a friend and collaborator for some 20 years. “Complicite ignore borders and cross them without official papers,” Berger says.
Berger is represented in this year’s Avignon Festival with an hour-and-a-half reading of From A to X, which his daughter Katya Berger translated into French. A stands for Aida, X for Xavier. Xavier is in prison for unspecified political reasons (probably terrorism), and Aida is a pharmacist who writes him. At the back of Aida’s letters, Xavier writes down the story of his life. For this reading in the Cour d’honneur of the Popes’ Palace, Juliette Binoche performed the voice of this woman in love and Simon McBurney that of the prisoner who does not disown his battles. Berger himself reads the text’s prologue, a ferocious criticism of a totalitarian system.
John and Katya Berger also collaborated in Lying Down to Sleep, a one-hour reading performance. The two Bergers exchanged letters about the Italian Renaissance painter Andrea Mantegna who decorated the walls and the ceiling of a small room in the ducal palace of Mantua. This correspondence was then turned into a theater work.
Other Avignon Festival shows include plays from the repertory revisited by Arthur Nauzyciel (The Seagull) or Stéphane Braunschweig (Six Characters in Search of an Author), new texts written by Guillaume Vincent (Night is Falling…) and Christophe Honoré (Nouveau Roman), including another play that will be staged by Éric Vigner (The Faculty), theatre performances like the one proposed by the Forced Entertainment group (Tomorrow’s Parties).
There are also a series of productions dealing with real-life politics: the deviations of financial systems with Nicolas Stemann and Bruno Meyssat, political violence in Colombia with the Mapa Teatro (the popular Los Santos Innocentes), in Lebanon with Lina Saneh and Rabih Mroué, at the borders of Europe with Fanny Bouyagui, environmental risks with Katie Mitchell (W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn), and Thomas Ostermeier, who stages Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People.
Other artists featured in the festival include Christoph Marthaler, William Kentridge, the 1927 company and Séverine Chavrier’s work; new visual-art experiences by Markus Öhrn, Romeo Castellucci, Steven Cohen, Jérôme Bel and Romeu Runa, and Sophie Calle; as well as movement-based works by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Josef Nadj, Olivier Dubois, Régine Chopinot, Nacera Belaza and La Revue Éclair.
In 1947, the director Jean Vilar created his own theatre in the Cour d’honneur of the Palais des papes. After he decided to working as a director in the mid-1960s, Vilar invited artists from everywhere. This year’s festival celebrates the 100th anniversary of his birth with a show by the KompleXKapharnaüM company, and with the Maison Jean Vilar.
Not many Americans are represented in Avignon Festival. Jonah Bokaer, who has been making artistic waves on the international dance circuit since he began choreographing almost 10 years ago, was seen outdoors at the Avignon Festival in France (July 20–22, 24–26). He will then go to Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket, Mass., August 1–5. He and Bolshoi Ballet star David Hallberg will perform together in the world premiere of Bokaer’s Curtain.
Curtain is co-produced by Fondation d’Entreprise Hermès as part of its program New Settings; SACD (Socieété des Auteurs et Compositeurs Dramatiques; Paris: Sujets à Vif Commission 2012); Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin (Paris) and The Producers Circle of Chez Bushwick (Brooklyn, NY). The show’s title refers, in part, to the Iron Curtain, whose destruction made possible the present and historic relationship between the South Dakota-born Hallberg and the Bolshoi Ballet. The 60-minute dance is comprised of two solos (“Curtain” performed by Hallberg and “Sorry” performed by Bokaer–as well as a duet, “Les Innocents,” performed by the two artists. The original score by Chris Garneau includes portions of a student lecture that composer John Cage gave at the 1984 Jacob’s Pillow Festival, now rendered almost unrecognizable by Garneau’s application of a centrifugal speaker.
Marking a rare time that Americans have been invited to perform at the Avignon Festival, Curtains took place in le Jardin de la Vierge du Lycée Saint-Joseph in Avignon, where Bokaer and Hallberg performed “Les Innocents.” ( The Pillow performances will additionally include the individual solos.) In both settings, there is no “curtain.”
A popular and contemporary artistic adventure. Founded in 1947 by Jean Vilar, the Avignon Festival is today one of the most important contemporary performing arts events in the world. Every year in July, Avignon becomes a city-theater, transforming its architectural heritage into various performance venues, majestic or surprising, welcoming tens of thousands of theater-lovers (over 130,000 admissions) of all ages.
Its legendary space is the “Cour d’honneur” (main courtyard) of the Popes’ Palace, the heart of outdoor performances, before nearly 2,000 spectators, on summer nights in Provence. The spectators, often on vacation and far from home, spend several days in Avignon and see a few of the 40 or so shows, mostly plays and dance recitals and occasionally concerts or plastic arts events. The Festival successfully brings together a general public and international creation for an original alliance.
Avignon is also a state of mind: the city is an open-air forum where festival-goers discuss the shows and share their experiences as spectators. For a month, everyone can have access to a contemporary and living culture.
Festival d’Avignon • Cloître St-Louis, 20 rue du portail Boquier, 84000 Avignon • Information +33 (0)4 90 27 66 50
- Avignon festival week one roundup: Complicite is masterful, Camille captivating (guardian.co.uk)
- Hollande, Wolfish Bankers, Devil Hang Out in Avignon: Preview – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- Simon McBurney, actor and director (guardian.co.uk)
- Avignon festival week two roundup: Seagull dead in the water, but Ibsen comes alive (guardian.co.uk)
- Walled ancient city; the Festival; the “host’ – Avignon, France (travelpod.com)
- Taiwanese troupes win praise for Avignon performances (wantchinatimes.com)
- Dennehy, Bedford heading to Stratford fest (arabtimesonline.com)
- Globe theatre (thehindu.com)
- Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui equates dance with life (expatica.com)