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Theatre Journal 52.2 (2000) 259-263
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Festival International des Francophonies En Limousin
Festival International des Francophonies En Limousin. Limoges, France. 23 September-3 October 1999.
Attending the sixteenth annual Limoges festival was a fascinating experience, as much for what it revealed about the possibilities and constraints of theatrical collaboration among different French-speaking countries as for the particular productions that it showcased. The theme this past year was Africa, with six of the eight invited companies coming from that continent. In addition, the festival included readings of new works, dance, music, street theatre and story-telling, hours of round-table discussions, a day-long meeting of the professional organization CITF (Commission Internationale du Théâtre Francophone), and a concurrent program of francophone films. This past year was also the last for director Monique Blin, stepping down after guiding the festival since its inception sixteen years ago. Therefore, the festival included tributes to Blin and spirited discussion about where the festival has been and where it will be going under its new head, actor and director Patrick Le Mauff.
In programming the 1999 festival, the organizers worked to compose mixed Western European/African creative teams, matching a French or Belgian director or contemporary writer with a company from an African country. In fact, five of the eight productions resulted from such inter-cultural collaboration, all to mixed effect. The show Les Indépendan-tristes proved to be the most provocative of the five.
Les Indépendan-tristes is based on an unfinished manuscript by late Guinean author Williams Sassine, formerly in residence at Limoges. After the writer's death in 1997, Belgian author and director Jean-Claude Idée extended the play, incorporating other writings by Sassine. This version was proposed to the promising young Senegalese troupe, Les 7 Koûss, with Idée as director. An ironic meditation on the post-independence heritage of West Africa, Les Indépendan-tristes (its title blending "indépendantistes"--supporters of independence--and "tristes," meaning "sad") takes place in an unnamed country of the region, in a deserted train station lobby surrounded by the increasingly-closer sounds of shooting and bombing. On stage, six "children of the revolution," four men and two women, gradually appeared and, in the defunct station, reflected upon their past and their limited possibilities for the future. The set was appropriately sparse, the stage strewn with litter, boxes and containers used variously as seating and percussive musical instruments in the course of the play. However, the cast seemed to be working in opposition to the script rather than with it, despite their considerable energy and craft. This can be ascribed mainly to the fragmented quality of the play, whose dual authorship was unfortunately quite evident. In spite of this basic problem, the actors' fine work and the gritty strength of Sassine's language made the play absorbing to watch.
The same troupe, Les 7 Koûss, also gave a single performance of La Rue Ponti, a piece of street theatre which they had created in conjunction with Belgian director Philippe Laurent, their teacher for several years at the Ecole Nationale des Arts in Dakar. Scattered around the plaza on which they were performing, the actors each portrayed various characters inspired by people on the main commercial street in Dakar. The play was liberally praised by those who attended its performance, from theatre critics to other actors to citizens of Limoges. In comparing La Rue Ponti with Les Indépendan-tristes, one might attribute the greater success of La Rue to the more natural fashion in which it was developed. The street theatre piece came out of the actors' own experiences and language and was created over a longer period of time, in the players' culture.
In this light, it is interesting that the two most theatrically successful major productions of the [End Page 259] festival were formed by creators working together for an extended period in their country of origin: Atakoun, by the Benin company Wassangari, and the sole French Canadian...