Avignon festival 'catastrophe' meets with boos

21st July 2005, Comments 0 comments

AVIGNON, France, July 21 (AFP) - This year's edition of one of Europe's top summer arts events was described as a pretentious catastrophe Thursday after angry audiences booed or walked out of a series of performances.

AVIGNON, France, July 21 (AFP) - This year's edition of one of Europe's top summer arts events was described as a pretentious catastrophe Thursday after angry audiences booed or walked out of a series of performances.

Critics attending the three-week Avignon theatre festival in southern France said it had plumbed new depths of intellectual obscurity and warned that a contempt for the mainstream public was placing the future of a prestigious national institution in jeopardy.

"What purgatory!" headlined the news magazine Le Point on its culture pages, "Loyal spectators are sad, disorientated and haggard," while a commentator for the Communist newspaper L'Humanite said this year's offerings were marked by "a triumphant sense of masturbatory autism."

But the most searing attack on Europe's most important drama venue after Edinburgh came from the conservative newspaper Le Figaro, which devoted its daily editorial to "the festival's worst crisis since 1968."

"It is chic, it is hip, it is conceptual. And it is totally cut off from the real country," the paper thundered.

"Prototypes are being launched for the public to test, but the real audience is a tiny in-crowd, drunk on its own pathetic audacity .... Most spectators are not totally new to the world of the arts and can make up their own minds. Every evening they come out revolted.

"Does the festival have the right to survive this artistic and moral disaster?" it concluded.

Founded in 1947 by theatre director Jean Vilar, the Avignon festival played a huge role in rebuilding France's cultural self-confidence after World War II and today has a long-established reputation for showcasing drama -- both traditional and experimental works -- from across the continent.

Since 2003 the festival's artistic team has been led by two young administrators Hortense Archambault, 35, and Vincent Baudriller, 37, who this year stand accused of deviating into non-dramatic performance art and an unhealthy emphasis on violence and nihilism.

On Tuesday there were shouts of abuse during a show -- part dance, part installation -- by choreographer Christain Rizzo. "Either the well was deep" -- a reference from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland -- was accompanied by a cacophony of electronic noise that the audience found unbearable.

A two-part work entitled "A lovely blonde child" and "I apologise" in which actors draped life-style dolls of young girls in lascivious postures over coffins also drew boos of derision and was accused of being an incitement to paedophilia.

"You think you've reached the last point in mediocrity, pretentiousness and confusion. But no. There is always something worse," said Le Figaro's drama critic.

Belgian visual artist Jan Lauwers prompted another commentator to ask, "Are the gods of theatre taking their revenge?" Lauwers announces that "Needlapb 10" is "not a show or a work of creativity but a mental space, an experiment." It ends with a 15 minute film of waves and a solitary man on a beach.

On Sunday much of the audience walked out of "After/Before," described as a piece of "theatre-dance-music-video" by director Pascal Rambert. The first 40 minutes are taken up by a film of interviewees answering the question, "If there were a huge catastrophe, a new flood, what would you bring with you from this world to the next?"

In the second half 21 actors reproduce word for word the quotes from the film, and then having stripped off perform them a third time in song and dance. "What have you got against us?" a spectator was heard to shout as he walked out in exasperation.

Press attacks have come not just from right-wing papers like Le Figaro for which the festival is a "place for official art to offer a little bit of scandal with a lot of subsidies."

France's left-wing standard bearer Le Monde described a monologue in which Belgian visual artist Jan Fabre -- this year's guest of honour -- ruminates on the fate of a failed clown as "very vague and very pretentious and very lazy."

"We have seen a lot of feeble and problematic shows in this Avignon festival. But this is sheer imposture, bloated by its own importance and of unfathomable tedium," Le Monde said.

The Avignon festival was cancelled in 2003 because of a strike by workers in the entertainment industry, but 2004 was seen as a success and advance ticket-sales for this year's event -- which ends on July 27 -- were strong.

In an interview with Le Monde, Baudriller said he had no regrets about the programme.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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