Avignon Festival Forges Ahead, Despite Virus Restrictions

by Msnbctv news staff

AVIGNON, France — It appears like a virologist’s nightmare: 1,070 theater productions; 116 venues, most of them inside Avignon’s cramped medieval heart; and in all places, festivalgoers sitting shoulder to shoulder in indoor areas.

But the Fringe providing at this summer season’s Avignon Competition — which runs parallel to the principle occasion, and is called “le Off” — has solid forward, even because the extra contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus grew to become the dominant pressure in France.

Is it problematic to take pleasure in glorious performances beneath the circumstances? With the rituals of Avignon, together with unmasked performers handing out publicity fliers on the street, got here a way of normalcy. Nonetheless, a sneaky sense of guilt permeated conversations with theatergoers — not least when new restrictions have been introduced, shortly after the Avignon Competition started.

Final week, the French authorities decreed {that a} “well being move” — a QR code proving full vaccination or a destructive coronavirus check consequence — could be required from July 21 for all venues with over 50 seats. Eating places, bars and trains will observe from Aug. 1. (The well being move requirement beforehand utilized solely to occasions with greater than 1,000 viewers members.)

Frustration was palpable in Avignon within the days earlier than the rule got here into drive. Whereas roughly half of Fringe venues are sufficiently small to skirt it, some firms opted to go away early, and greater exhibits reported ticket returns and a drop in bookings. Final weekend, as widespread demonstrations in opposition to the coverage swept France, protesters crammed Avignon’s greatest avenue, shouting “Liberté!” (“Freedom!”)

Whereas the Avignon Competition’s official lineup (“le In,” in native parlance) went from bleak to bleaker in its themes, Fringe fare at the least supplied some respite from pandemic worries, since comedy has all the time been a outstanding a part of this much less intellectual portion of the competition.

Two authentic one-man exhibits, by Mehdi-Emmanuel Djaadi and Marc Arnaud, mix jokes and impressions with explorations of deep-seated interior conflicts. Djaadi’s “Coming Out,” particularly, is an train in stereotype busting. The approaching out in query is spiritual: The present recounts the 34-year-old comic’s conversion from Islam to Catholicism.

Help for his selection was scarce, as Djaadi tells it on the aptly named Théâtre des Corps Saints (Theater of the Holy Our bodies). His household, of Algerian descent, felt he was turning his again on them; a priest defined that he didn’t need any hassle; in inventive circles, many have been sick comfortable with what they noticed because the Catholic Church’s homophobia and conservatism.

But as an alternative of expressing the resentment he may need felt, Djaadi seems again on his journey, from teenage riot and drug dealing to a Catholic wedding ceremony, with amused affection. He factors to contradictions on each side, and France’s churchgoers are available for pointed satire, too.

In “The Metamorphosis of Storks,” Arnaud focuses on a a lot shorter stretch of time. He and his spouse went by means of the method of in vitro fertilization, and we meet Arnaud as he’s about to donate a sperm pattern — a course of that brings up way more emotions than he anticipated.

As he stalls impatient hospital employees, his monologue covers his sexual schooling, his makes an attempt at remedy and anxiousness about parenthood. It’s a brisk, trustworthy reckoning with the travails of masculinity, which packed the Théâtre du Prepare Bleu to the rafters (earlier than the well being move requirement was applied).

Not that Avignon audiences have been turned off by darker exhibits. At Artéphile, one of many few Fringe venues to additionally operate as a year-round cultural area, the director Blandine Pélissier supplied a stark and convincing manufacturing, “Iphigenia in Splott.”

The Welsh playwright Gary Owen is comparatively unknown in France, however his 2015 remodeling of the Iphigenia fable — translated by Pélissier and Kelly Rivière — ought to immediate curiosity about his work. Right here, the sacrificial sufferer is Effie, from the Cardiff district of Splott, a blaze of raging power who turns into unexpectedly pregnant. This 90-minute monologue convincingly attributes the shortage of assist she encounters to social and medical service cuts, and the actress Morgane Peters takes the function from hard-edge anger to ache with poignant ease.

Productions with bigger casts have been a much bigger problem this yr, given {that a} constructive coronavirus check among the many firm was sufficient to name a exhibit, and the director and actress Julie Timmerman downsized her present “A Democrat” in consequence. Timmerman retooled this glorious manufacturing about Edward Bernays, the American nephew of Freud often known as “the daddy of public relations,” for simply two actors (Mathieu Desfemmes and herself). The result’s adroitly written and witty, a worthy take a look at the hazards of Bernays’ strategies once they’re used for propaganda functions.

Whereas the Avignon Competition’s official, curated lineup entails far fewer productions than the Fringe, it was hit with a handful of coronavirus-related cancellations. The inventive groups of two choreographers, Dada Masilo and Dimitris Papaioannou, have been unable to journey to Avignon, whereas Eva Doumbia’s “Autophagies” noticed its run interrupted when members of the forged and crew had to enter isolation after coming into contact with an contaminated particular person.

Two European productions that went forward make a long-lasting impression. Emma Dante, of Italy, choreographs as a lot as she directs, and in “Misericordia,” theater turns into dance and vice versa. In it, three ladies elevate a baby, Arturo, who’s described as mentally disabled and whose mom was a sufferer of home violence. Collectively, they kind a bickering, complicated household. The dancer Simone Zambelli not solely captures Arturo’s twitching, disjointed physique, he spins his bodily vulnerability and moments of pleasure into poetry, knotting himself into expressive shapes.

Avignon additionally hosted the stage model of “Items of a Lady.” Earlier than it grew to become a movie starring Vanessa Kirby final yr, the playwright Kata Weber and the director Kornel Mundruczo imagined it for the TR Warszawa playhouse in Warsaw, and the Polish forged delivered a intestine punch in Avignon on the Lycée Théodore Aubanel.

The play begins with the identical prolonged labor scene because the movie, nevertheless it covers much less narrative floor after the central couple’s child is stillborn. Whereas the display screen model particulars the trial of a midwife who attended to the start, that is solely hinted at as a chance onstage, and Maja, who misplaced her youngster, refuses to undergo with it. As an alternative, the characters’ grief performs out over a protracted household dinner on the house of Maja’s mom.

The consequence requires extra persistence on viewers’ half, however rewards it with a totally shaped portrait of a household adrift. In that sense, the stage model of “Items of a Lady” completes Weber and Mundruczo’s puzzle: Let’s hope Avignon gained’t be its solely worldwide cease.

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