- Border crossings
This summer the Avignon Festival celebrated its 60th birthday with an abundance of original pieces, some from abroad (Japan, Russia, Switzerland, and Belgium), and others from France. Documentary theatre, equestrian theatre, dance theatre, and special events, including Ariane Mnouchkine's film of her acclaimed theatre piece Le Dernier Caravanserail, and a three-day colloquium of scholars and artists meeting to discuss the festival's history and its future possibilities, all contributed to make this anniversary a very special occasion. There were interesting pairings and collaborations, a French director working with British texts, another presenting a French text with American actors, a French-based choreographer from former Yugoslavia working with a Spanish sculptor in one piece and Japanese Butoh performers in another, and a Belgian director presenting a Dutch text. In contrast to last year's festival which opened up its programming to aggressive new forms and consequently was met with stormy protests from both critics and audiences, this year, care was taken not to offend Avignon's loyal audiences. At the same time festival organizers were determined to continue their "project of questioning the nature of theatre, starting from the principle that different forms can dialogue with others without excluding one another."
This year's guest associate artistic director was Josef Nadj, a well-known dancer and choreographer who heads the National Choreography Center in Orleans. His choices, along with those of the festival directors, offered a varied program of theatre, dance, and performance, that included not only the work of great masters such as Peter Brook, Alain Françon, Bartabas, and Vassiliev, but also the dramatic innovations of a new generation: Stéfan Kaegi, Arthur Nauzyciel, Thierry Bae, Guy Cassier, and Joel Pommerat, among others. From small, intimate pieces such as Lune (Moon), by noted Japanese calligrapher Hiroyuki Nakajima, an installation/performance that lasted only eight to ten minutes, to large dance pieces such as Asobu, the new work by Josef Nadj which opened the festival in the Popes's Palace Honor Court, shows were frequently sold out, and overall the festival boasted an 88% occupancy spread across all of the events, [End Page 80] despite heavy rains that caused several performances to be canceled at the last minute.
The two most sought after shows in the festival were clear examples of the festival directors's project to present work that promotes new definitions of the meaning of theatre. Mnemopark, a world of miniature trains, "the show Avignon was waiting for," according to Le Monde of July 14, and Paso Doble, equally fascinating in its questioning of dramatic forms, were both sold out.
Mnemopark a world of miniature trains, a production of Theatre Basel, written and directed by 33 year-old Stéfan Kaegi, co-founder of Rimini Protokoll, takes us on an entertaining and fascinating trip around Switzerland with the help of one professional actress and five retirees, model train buffs, who have built and played with locomotives and trains most of their lives. Entering the Benoit XII space, expressions of surprise and delight echoed throughout the theatre as the audience discovered that the entire playing space was taken up with a toy train set placed on a raised platform replicating a reduced map of Switzerland, complete with snow-covered mountains, lush green valleys, farms with plastic cows and chickens, and pretty little chalets; and of course train tracks, stations, tressles, tunnels, bridges and whistles.
Lights out, a film of a snowy landscape, and our journey begins. "Départ" ("All aboard"), actress Rahel Hubacher announces as she blows the whistle and invites us to join her on a two-hour train ride. Mini-cameras attached to the locomotives enlarge the details of the landscape we are crossing and project them onto a large screen along with images of the train masters at work. Human scale and miniature interact. We take off. First stop Bonneville. Rahel, our guide, takes us though farms where chickens are clucking and cows are mooing, accompanied all the while by her narration of details and statistics: we learn that there are seven million chickens and 7.2 million inhabitants in Switzerland. Along with the size of the country (41...