The Festival d’Avignon begins in joy, keeping an eye on the virus

The return of Serebrennikov, the opening of a new hall, the streets black with people: the Festival d’Avignon, which starts on Thursday, has something to celebrate after two years of the health crisis. Even if he remains vigilant due to the epidemic setback.

On the day before the start of the most famous theater festival in the world, the traditional parade took place on Wednesday for the first time since 2019. In costumes and to the sound of drums, a dense crowd of artists marched through the streets of the City des Papes, where many festival-goers were already.

“It is our first Avignon, we are very satisfied. We used the restrictions to stage our show!” says Christophe Gillis, musician and director, who traveled from Belgium to present “Mozart versus Mozart”, a show with “musical humour”. The covid? “We’re not going to spoil the festival, we have to be on stage and we’re all going to be very careful,” adds the artist.

“The Avignon of Return”

“We have the impression that we are returning a little to normality, we hope that it will be the Avignon of return,” affirms Olivier Schmidt, member of the “Les Joyeux de la Couronne” troupe, presenting “A l” shadow of Oz’, a music show about Judy Garland’s journey.

It is one of the 1,500 shows of the “off”, the largest “market” for live performances in France, which runs parallel to the official festival and has returned to its rich pre-pandemic offer. There is also the opening of a new hall, “La Scala Provence”.

Mandatory mask

On the side of the Festival d’Avignon, more international and specialized than the “Off”, we would like to reassure you about the health measures while calling for vigilance. “The (current) risk of contagion is so great that we have made it compulsory for our teams to wear a mask because we cannot afford contagion,” Paul Rondin, deputy director of the festival, told AFP.

“There will be hundreds of thousands of people in Avignon for 20 days and we don’t want any fear-inducing measures, but we’re telling people: ‘Come to the festival and try to put the mask on in the halls,'” he adds. Testing and vaccination centers will be set up in the city.

The 2022 edition will also be the last for Olivier Py, who has directed the festival for nine years and will be succeeded by the Portuguese Tiago Rodrigues. Since 2013 he has been inviting artists from different backgrounds, with a focus on the political side of theater in the broadest sense of the word.

Ukraine in the background

Artists like Kirill Serebrennikov, whom he is inviting for the fourth time, under special circumstances: Although the idea was born in Ukraine before the war, the Russian filmmaker and director, who has been in European exile since spring, will open on Thursday with “The Schwarzer Monk” by Chekhov in the Court of Honor of the Papal Palace, the emblematic place of the festival.

Serebrennikov recently made a notable appearance at the Cannes Film Festival presenting his film Tchaikovsky’s Wife – and was denied by the Ukrainians.

As a sign of solidarity with Ukraine, Olivier Py will perform on his farewell show “Miss Knife” with the Dakh Daughters, a punk group from Kyiv.

A 13 hour epic

The festival this year also gives pride of place to the Middle East, with Iranian Amir Reza Koohestani, another regular, Arab poets and Lebanese artists.

“Anyone can find an experience to live with, whether it’s with Serebrennikov, (the non-binary artist), Kae Tempest, Little Red Riding Hood (from the collective Das Plateau) or Arabic women poets,” says Rondin.

And for lovers of river shows – a festival tradition – playwright Simon Falguières offers ‘Le Nid de Cendres’, a 13-hour epic. With four breaks and two breaks.


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