- Voyages: Revisiting Quebec's Delegation to Avignon
Among the most high-profile events on the international circuit, the Avignon International Festival influences production and touring projects worldwide. For a season that began with deep cuts to federal support of Canadian arts programs abroad, the 2009 edition of the Avignon International Festival in southern France was notable for unprecedented participation by artists from Quebec and Canada. The seeds of this showcase were planted when Hortense Archambault and Vincent Baudriller, the festival's artistic directors, entered into a dialogue with the artistic director of the National Arts Centre French Theatre Wajdi Mouawad in 2007, later naming him associate artist for the festival's sixty-third season. Quebec's delegation to Avignon in 2009 included theatre and dance projects, a film, graphic arts, and a spoken word performance. French audiences and critics were quick to note interdisciplinary approaches among Montreal companies, specifically their folding together of choreographic, visual, and text-based elements. Though the festival's focus on Quebec might seem to reflect an outburst of recent activity, artists, including choreographer Lynda Gaudreau, argued that the programming offered a window into long-standing features of performing arts practice in Montreal, notably hybridity and collaboration between artists.
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Works by Quebec artists at the festival offered distinct aesthetic worlds—from marathon, open air cycles reminiscent of Greek tragedy, to intimate cut-ups for film and voice. Denis Marleau's striking production of Austrian playwright Thomas Bernhard's Une fête pour Boris (1968) offered crystalline, facet-cut performances with precise, Beckettian rhythms. Parsed with deft theatricality and craft, Marleau's actors delivered text as measured as fine musical interpretation. In a bravura performance as the Good Woman, Christiane Pasquier interpreted a role that, like Beckett's Winnie, is a remarkable challenge for female actors at the height of their abilities. A chorus of quasi-robotic automatons ended the production in a notable staging of the uncanny—performing syncopated, pre-recorded repartee with the unexpected vividness of live dialogue. The work's technological accomplishment disclosed rather than concealed itself through choreographed glitches, offering a discomfiting coexistence of organic and machine presences on stage and destabilizing senses of the live.
Mouawad's Le sang des promesses (The Blood of Promises) began with three major works from his repertoire—his 1999 Avignon contribution Littoral (1997), Incendies (2003), and Forêts (2006). The sequence played from dusk to dawn in a vast outdoor theatre at the Popes' Palace. Near the end of the festival, Mouawad premiered the fourth and final part of the sequence at a fairground outside Avignon. Mounted inside a massive white cube in an industrial exhibition space, Ciels (Skies or Heavens) proposed an extraordinary dispositif, enclosing the public on all sides with raised, narrow stages. Framed like cinema screens, the performances taking place [End Page 98] within these windows shuffled between film, theatre, and painting references as they enacted a contemporary, Oedipus-like story with an acute, political edge.
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Commissioned by Avignon for the idiosyncratic dance series Sujets à vif, Montreal choreographer Lynda Gaudreau's Out of the Blue transformed an unusual convent courtyard into a species of pop seascape. The project took place in a daytime, outdoor venue with unique architectural properties—a statue of the Virgin Mary and a palm tree popping spryly through the irregularly-shaped dance floor. Gaudreau's choreography presented gestures in mid-flight, without clear origin, and full of playful rearrangements. The dramaturgy, as encapsulated by Gaudreau's title, investigated abrupt, ludic shifts, strange entrances, and unexpected endings—the choreographer's unusual response to the web-based Interview Project by Austin and David Lynch. A finely calibrated citation of pop art, Gaudreau's witty study transformed the venue with minimal elements. Working in collaboration with vocalist and visual artist Dominique Pétrin (singer of the Montreal rock group Les Georges Leningrad), sound artist Anne-François Jacques and...