Avignon festival turns 60

7th July 2006, Comments 0 comments

AVIGNON, France, July 7, 2006 (AFP) - One of Europe's top arts events is marking its 60th anniversary here with organisers vowing to put behind them last year's debacle when the Avignon theatre festival was denounced as pretentious nonsense.

AVIGNON, France, July 7, 2006 (AFP) - One of Europe's top arts events is marking its 60th anniversary here with organisers vowing to put behind them last year's debacle when the Avignon theatre festival was denounced as pretentious nonsense.

Angry audiences booed and stormed out of performances at the 2005 three-week theatre jamboree in southern France, with one critic scathingly dismissing the event as an "artistic and moral disaster" while another said it was marked by "masturbatory autism."

"Yes, it did provoke a lot of discussions and even polemic in the press, but less among the public," said artistic director Vincent Baudriller, ahead of Thursday night's opening.

"You don't just come to Avignon to see the shows which you can see all year round, but to share the experience of theatre," he told AFP.

"One of the aims of the project is to question the nature of theatre, starting from the principle that different forms can dialogue with others without excluding one other."

But he offered reassurances that this year's 60th anniversary festival would be less stormy than in 2005, when the guest of honour, controversial Belgian visual artist Jan Fabre, "tested the limits of theatre."

"This year with Josef Nadj, we are linked to travel, escape and the imaginary. This year's festival will have a very different flavour to last year's," added Baudriller, who shares the direction of the festival with Hortense Archambault.

Held in the historic walled city of Avignon, the festival was founded in 1947 by theatre director Jean Vilar. It played a major role in restoring France's cultural self-confidence after World War II, and has gained a reputation for showcasing both traditional and experimental theatre.

Dancer and choroegrapher Nadj, a French-Serb of Hungarian origins, said he leapt at the offer to be the 2006 guest of honour.

"I said yes, even before really thinking about it. It's a festival in which I've appeared a number of times and seen some success and this was a chance to highlight a lot of my preoccupations," said Nadj, the 48-year-old head of the National Choreography Centre in Orléans.

He has created two shows for this year's Avignon festival, which has been built around the theme of travel.

"Asobu" (Game) is a real and metaphorical voyage between his home province of Voivodin in northern Serbia and Japan, a country which he regularly visits, and inspired by the French poet and painter Henri Michaux.

The second work "Paso Doble" pays tribute to the Spanish painter and sculptor Miquel Barcelo.

The festival opened on Thursday with a performance by the equestrian Theatre Zingaro, with the public led at breakneck speed by its creator Bartabas into a land of gypsies.

Other plays to be showcased at the festival include works by the British playwright Edward Bond directed by Alain Francon, Puskin's "Mozart and Salieri" directed by Russian Anatoly Vassiliev and the French premier of Japanese playwright Oriza Hirata's "Citizens of Seoul."

Some 110,000 people are set to flock to the festival before it closes on July 27, with the sideline "Off" festival also set to attract hundreds of thousands of spectators.

"I am not searching to provoke a reaction or to win a consensus," said director Baudriller. "But most of this year's works will incite less reaction or upset among the audiences."

On July 17, the culture ministry, which subsidises the EUR 9.7 million (12.3 million dollar) festival with some EUR 3.9 million in grants, will celebrate in Avignon 60 years of the decentralisation of theatre in France.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French News

0 Comments To This Article