When the direction of the Festival d’Avignon changes, the whole ecosystem of Western European theater moves, swirled into the heart of the imposing circles of influence of the largest French-speaking live performance festival. We were therefore eager to live our first Avignon reviewed and corrected by the director of Portuguese origin Tiago Rodrigues, to measure how far this wind will take us over the next few years. Indeed, it is in Avignon that the greatest trends of the time in the performing arts are circumscribed and reflected, with which the management has a duty to put itself in phase. His predecessors in the 2000s, Hortense Archambault and Vincent Beaudriller, had done so by thoroughly valuing interdisciplinarity, the performative, deconstructed dramaturgies and screen theatre. Olivier Py, who took charge between 2014 and 2022, has for his part branched off into a more textocentric, but often militant, even activist theater – espousing a tendency of contemporary scenes to model themselves on the struggles of the intersectional left.
Drawing our era through the artistic forms that shape it is a mission that Tiago Rodrigues takes seriously. “I’m not here to impose my tastes, but to translate, in the light of our times, the founding values of high standards and accessibility that animated the founder, Jean Vilar”, he told us as we meets him in his office on the second floor of the Cloître Saint-Louis.
“Aesthetic plurality and the multiplicity of ideas are the essence of the festival, which is a space for democratic conversation, underlines Tiago Rodrigues. The current theatrical scene is also really extremely multiple, less easily assimilated to clear currents. I don’t believe that it will be possible to extract from my directorship an adherence to specific scenic forms, as was the case with some of my predecessors. Just a matter of time. »
A few paths to follow
All the same, the new director dares to predict that the forms of activist theater that have emerged in recent years are here to stay. “Personally, I’m a little wary of activism that leaves no room for ambiguity or that doesn’t offer the possibility of multiple levels of interpretation. But the theater will always be the bearer of civic visions, and these days this vision is also often directly infused into the production method of the shows, which then gives rise to aesthetics and new poetic paths. »
An example ? No choice to adapt to the imperatives of the climate emergency by modifying the ways of thinking about scenographies, designing tours by reducing polluting travel, reviewing energy consumption. From this movement arise new concerns among artists, who invent a theater connected to nature and the earth. “A new imagination is developing that connects humans to the whole living world,” says Tiago Rodrigues.
The movement is evident this summer at the festival. In That remains my joy, according to Jean Giono, the director Clara Hédouin uses the principle of a hike in the forest for six hours, from dawn until noon, “to make the public travel in nature and through literature” . In Shared landscapes, an adventure directed by Caroline Barneaud and Stefan Kaegi, seven artists and collectives are invited “to practice their aesthetics by putting the landscape at the center of their dramaturgy”. The director Philippe Quesne, for his part, is presenting a large play this year in the mythical Carrière de Boulbon, a spectacular natural site 30 minutes from the center of Avignon, letting the rock and the minerality of the place inspire him with a “science fiction ecological and retrofuturistic”.
Still fond of text theatre, the new director also wants to devote part of each edition to a guest language. This year, he chose English, “a dominant language, too often considered functional, when it is much more than that”!
In the IN Avignon, the presence of Quebec has always been very discreet. With the exception of the repeated appearances of Denis Marleau in the 1990s and 2000s, the splendor of 2009, when pieces by Wajdi Mouawad, Dave St-Pierre and Christian Lapointe were presented, there was then only the director Philippe Ducros and the performer Julie-Andrée T. to carve out a small place for themselves. This year, a turnaround: the Anishinaabe artist At the very start of the festival, Émilie Monnet presented her play Daisy. Fire.
Is this the sign of a complicity of Tiago Rodrigues with the Quebec scene? Can we expect more sustained attention from him towards our artists? “What I can say is that I myself am very attached to Montreal and Quebec, where I presented my play By Heart and made friends. It is clear that the Festival d’Avignon will maintain links with the TransAmériques Festival (FTA) in Montreal, which has an exceptional dynamism that inspires us, and with which dialogue is sustained. The invitation we made to Émilie Monnet is a direct result of this. »
Perhaps there will finally be a little more québecitude at the Festival d’Avignon! A story to follow.
The Avignon Festival continues until July 25.