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Whither the Avignon Festival?

This coming September, stage and opera director Olivier Py will take over as head of the Festival d'Avignon, which opens today in southern France. Nathalie Simon wrote an article (Le festival d'Avignon face à ses contradictions, July 5) for Le Figaro, taking stock of the tenure of the departing directors, Vincent Baudriller and Hortense Archambault (my translation):
If they have sometimes been criticized, the duo insist, it is because the audience and critics are terribly reactionary, incapable of understanding the art of their time. It is rather delightful to hear them repeat the same arguments, without ever being willing to ask themselves why they refuse, with every fiber of their being, those who have never been programmed for the last ten installments of a festival that is partially dependent on public funding. The directors were not willing to admit that they were reinventing the wheel by discovering the sculptural arts, happenings, agit-prop, etc. Today, and it is with extraordinary learning, they claim that they are "considered like curators, in a way more like an Internet understanding than doctrinal" (sic). [...]

The "curators" have taken as their standard a very clear European option. The demands of coproduction make that natural, as well as the artistic logic of the 21st century. So was it also necessary to leave out French artists? According to the directorial duo, they have done nothing revolutionary. Because they try to bluff past how things appear? Those refused by the festival, the Schiarettis, the Pellys, those who do not have "the card," are just as "revolutionary" as Marthaler or Warlikowski. One has to go beyond appearances. The preference of the directors for foreigners, for opulent productions, has led to obvious excesses: there are some festivals where it was necessary to spend all one's time reading supertitles. [...]

Responding to persistent criticism from the audience and from professional who reproach the directors with being too elitist by favoring foreign authors and directors, Vincent Baudriller assures us that he "puts the question to himself every year" and believes he has been faithful to the spirit of Jean Vilar, founder of the Avignon Festival in 1947. "We wanted to make a creative sort of theater and to open it up to the largest group possible," he chants. "I believe that the interest of the audience counteracts the criticism. One wants to tell them: be courageous, come discover other worlds, in German, Polish, English. We have invited artists who have taken the Cour [outdoor theater space], like Romeo Castellucci, Thomas Ostermeier, Christoph Marthaler, Pippo Delbono, Simon McBurney last year..." Vincent Baudriller takes pride in rising ticket sales, but Avignon has always done well at the box office and was at 93% sales in 2001, versus 94% in 2012.
Take a look at this year's festival program and judge for yourself. The opening of the festival has been entrusted to Le Groupe F, an artistic collective that uses fireworks.

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