2002 Avignon Festival: A Return to
By Andrew Jack
AVIGNON, 5 August 2002—When
modern dance is at its best, full of innovation, experiment and
energy, it is an all but unbeatable art form. Unfortunately, Sasha
Waltz's noBody, on show at France's
Festival this July, ended up being noThing like as good.
German choreographer, based in Berlin, provides a moving account of
the death of her mother in the festival programme. She also describes
how her dancers simply stood in stunned silence for an hour in front
of their audience on September 11, the day a prior version of their
project was due to premier, in solidarity with the tragic events in
But when it came to putting into practice noBody,
the third in a trilogy to follow Korper in 2000 (relating to
anatomy), and S (dealing with sensuality), the realisation has
The problem, perhaps, is that death is
precisely far more abstract, far less visual or concerned with motion,
than either of these previous two themes. But, to this viewer, much
more could have been made of the idea.
The majority of the
performance was taken up with disjointed movements which had little to
do with any form of coordination or, dare I say it, dance. Outlying
dancers sometimes appeared more as though they had forgotten their
steps (or been neglected by the choreographer) than that they were
there serving a particular symbolic purpose.
wrote in the programme that she was asked to develop noBody
specifically for the impressive setting of the Court of Honour at
Avignon's Papal Palace. The scene, and the wind billowing the clothes
of the dancers, certainly provided a striking foundation for
But, maybe in response to the scale of the task,
she appears to have been somewhat overwhelmed. The choreography seemed
often obsessed with the need to keep multiple dancers in perpetual
motion across the large stage, rather than to provide a visually
coherent or pleasing whole.
Choreography: Sasha Waltz
In other respects, it
did not seem as though there was much in noBody geared to the
specific venue, with the exception of the uninspiring flashing on and
off of lights in the Palace's windows which serve as a backdrop.
Peter Kuhn's music also added little to the pleasure for spectators.
For much of the performance, it sounded like a series of vacuum
cleaners on speed, crescendoing to a near-deafening blast of aircraft
engines. The primal screams of the dancers at one point seemed simply
ridiculous, and should have been left in the rehearsal studio.
became more visually interesting for the final third of the show. I
could not separate the different set pieces to identify which was
which, but what might be called the "Dance of the Pepper Pots"
was amusing, even if it was a theme that has been used by others in
At times, the coordinated rolling of heads, and
snatching of assorted dancers as they "died", was also
impressive and evocative. But overall, noBody seems to prove
the assertion that follow-ons and sequels rarely match up to
originals. Particularly with such a difficult theme.
show did at least provide justification to those who argued that the
2002 Avignon Festival represented a return to innovation for Bernard
Faivre d'Arcier, its long-standing director, who has in the past been
criticised for favouring conformism and commercial success.
man who has long been subject to rumours of his replacement in the
bitchy world of culture, Faivre d'Arcier does now seem certain to move
on to other tasks next year. As such, the presence of so many
creations and unusual performances in his penultimate festival is a
sign of a healthy legacy (though swelling box offices, notably those
of last year, are no bad thing either).
Even so, this
reviewer's luck in choosing a limited number of performances (as most
ordinary theatre-goers would - particularly given prices of Euros
20-30 apiece) was not always great in the current year.
Bouquet, the veteran French actor, put on a powerful show as the
protagonist in Thomas Bernhard's Minetti. The staging -
especially the wild sea of Ostende, where the man comes to terms with
his frustrated life as an actor - was equally impeccable. That is more
than can be said for the cramped, over-heated Muncipal theatre, with
its poor acoustics.
But, alas, this viewer found
the dialogue itself left something to be desired. While powerful in
parts, the play ended up leaving the spectator as the embarrassed
witness more to the rantings of an old man, than the insights of
self-analysis of a lifetime of acting.
The playwright Martin
McDonagh's Lonely West, based in a depressed Irish village,
was powerfully written, although somewhat unconvincing in its
concluding reconciliation of two brothers, supposedly brought together
after the alcoholic priest with whom they have built an uneasy
relation commits suicide precisely because of his failure to influence
his wayward parishioners.
It was well acted overall, though
the numerous "fucks" left untranslated in the performance
seemed as inappropriate in the French, and as awkward for its actors,
as they would have been natural in the native tongue and context. It
just ended up feeling a little inconsequential, though not
Overall, there also
seemed a greater air of democracy at this year's Festival, with large
public participation in a number of discussions and debates with
directors, actors and artists during workshops in comfortable new
surroundings in the St Louis Cloister.
It was only a shame
that (ironically comparing climatic and medical conditions in Avignon
and Prague in the post Cold War era), bad weather and ill health
forced Vaclev Havel, the veteran Czech playwright and politician, to
rush home, missing a speech he was due to give.
thought. Many of the descriptions in the programme for the Avignon
Festival are as pretentious as they are uninformative. If the
organisers want to fill box offices as well as appeal to a broader
audience in future years, they might do well to hire some better
writers from outside the usual milieu.
courtesy of the Festival d'Avignon
Andrew Jack is a British
journalist based in Moscow and the author of The French Exception
(Profile Books, London). He is also a member of the editorial board of