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Belgian French-language theatre in Avignon

Enter of Théâtre des Doms
The Théâtre des Doms in Avignon (c) J. Van Belle - WBI

Avignon Festival is the event of the year for theatre in the French language. This 68th year of the festival is one to remember for Walloon and Brussels theatre, whose work was extremely was extremely well-represented in the land of the popes.

While Fabrice Murgia was the proud standard-bearer for us at the ‘In’, many other companies were able to demonstrate the full depth and breadth of their talent in the ‘Off’. As for the Théâtre des Doms - the southern showcase of theatrical creativity in Wallonia-Brussels – it had an outstanding season and level of visibility, favourable for putting our companies on the market. Here’s a brief overview. 

In the cauldron of Avignon

Despite the adverse circumstances of repeated thunderstorms and strike threats, the venerable festival and its superabundant counterpart the ‘Off’ were bursting with enthusiasm. With a conspicuous presence of performers from the Wallonia-Brussels Federation, always drawn to the city of the popes.

Weighing heavily on minds was the memory of 2003 when, in the spring, the announced reform of the unemployment insurance regulations for contract workers – and, therefore, those who work in show business – prompted them to join forces, resist and stand up against it. Was the Festival of Avignon 2014 going to be cancelled, as it was eleven years earlier when the Compagnie Arsenic, billed to appear at the ‘In’, had to go back home?

Although Olivier Py’s first festival, the 68th of Avignon, was disrupted by strikes and storms, it did take place. To widespread relief. Particularly since the Wallonia-Brussels Federation was presenting Fabrice Murgia’s first production Notre peur de n'être (Compagnie Artara) there, one among other joint productions of the National Theatre showing at the ‘In’.


In and Off together

At the end of the opening night, on 21st July at the Aubanel gymnasium, the young French-speaking Belgian director invited onto the stage his many fellow countrymen and countrywomen present in Avignon, In and Off combined. Actors, directors, stage managers, dancers, choreographers: together, with or without performer status in the Wallonia-Brussels Federation, they declared their solidarity with the organised resistance of the contract workers of French show business. A mobilisation that attracted attention.
As did a whole host of projects bearing the "WB" stamp and presented at the festival this year. With, of course, at the bridgehead, the "southern showcase of contemporary creativity in French-speaking Belgium", a.k.a. the Théâtre des Doms.
Director Isabelle Jans and her team continue to pursue the mission drawn up when the place was founded in 2002: to contribute to the influence of "our" performers, in all the theatrical disciplines, by promoting and spreading their projects. Receiving more than 100 applications (140 this year) from which they select 9 iconic shows, offering up unusual proposals and forming a coherent whole, the Doms have become a leading stage in Avignon. And their reputation often opens doors for those who appear there.


In their assessment of their 13th festival, the Doms say they are, "Happy to see that they can please audiences with meaningful shows in an uncompromising programme". The audience numbers, up fifteen per cent or so, and the interest of those in the business mean that, "Companies are returning with great potential for tours to be turned into a reality”.  "In ten years, companies on the programme have been able to put their name to around 3750 performances after being at the Doms," points out the director, not without pride.
From pure theatre (David Harrower’s chilling Blackbird by Collectif Impakt, the rainy and quirky Et avec sa queue, il frappe! by Thomas Gunzig, performed by Alexendre Trocki) to out-of-control dance  (Mas-sacre by Maria Clara Villa-Lobos), from puppets for every audience (Silence by the Night Shop Théâtre) to DIY science fiction (the hilarious System Failure by Leslie Mannès), through to the circus (Solo Due by les Argonautes, Cordes by Alexis Rouvre), to the young audience (Poids Plume by la Compagnie Alula) and music (Kind of Pink - la face cachée de Pink Floyd by Philippe Laloy), the range is broad, just like the variety that prevails on the stages of Brussels and Wallonia.

Competitive market

The French-speaking Belgian presence is also diverse elsewhere in the ‘Off’. Where it’s a matter of carving out a place for itself among more than 1300 shows on the billing this year. Tough competition in a world in which even the least programme slot has to be paid for. And in a market in which the performers hope for a return - in recognition, contacts or even future contracts and tours - on the investment put in, which is often considerable in terms of both energy and money.
However, many of them took the plunge and set off for the city of the popes this summer. There’s Françoise Bloch’s Zoo Theatre with the very commendable and impertinent Money! (nominated in the Best Show category at the Critics’ Awards 2013-2014) at La Manufacture. Note that the actor Jérôme de Falloise was back there at 18.25 h, a few hours after he’d been performing in Blackbird at the Doms – and so on every day. Same double duty, “split-shift” style, for Sébastien Jacobs, performing with Erika Zueneli in the delightful Tant'amati (this one nominated in the Best Dance Show category), for four performances at la Condition des Soies, alternating with other pieces by the choreographer, and every evening at the Doms as a member of the System Failure quartet.

Regulars and first productions

Among our performers and the structures that bring them, Avignon has its regulars. La Charge du Rhinocéros, for example, presented three projects. At the Girasole, the already oft-praised Occident by Rémi De Vos, directed by Frédéric Dussenne with the tremendous Philippe Jeusette and Valérie Bauchau (show by l'Acteur et l'Ecrit, in partnership with le Rideau de Bruxelles). As well as two new projects: at the Ateliers d'Amphoux, in coproduction with the Belle de Nuit company, the first production of Lisbeths by Fabrice Melquiot, with Isabelle Defossé and Georges Lini, the latter also putting his name to the directing. Dieudonné Niangouna had been associate artist at the 2013 Avignon Festival; his M'Appel Mohamed Ali is directed by Jean-Baptiste Hamado Tiemtore and performed by Etienne Minoungou – an actor of the boxer genre playing a charismatic showman, and evoking Africa as a choice and source of pride, and contemplating endurance, self-belief, the complementary nature of beings, community, pugnacity and crossing boundaries. These new productions will reach our stages next season.

Echo chamber

There are leaflets, street shows and parades. And then there’s word of mouth, an essential medium in the ‘Off’. Thus for example, in the embrace of its walls, Avignon becomes an echo chamber. Notably for Promenade de santé by Nicolas Bedos, with Charlie Dupont and Tania Garbarski, directed by Hélène Theunissen, or for Kohlhaas adapted from Kleist, presented by the Agora Theater for audiences aged 13 and over. An unquestionable success since its first production in 2008 by Compagnie Point Zéro, L'Ecole des ventriloques by Jodorowsky, directed by Jean-Michel d'Hoop with Natacha Belova’s expressionist puppets and fantastic actors, can add a great July 2014 to its list of successes. Villeneuve en Scène, a parallel festival included in the Off, played host, for its part, to the travelling magic of the Baladins du Miroir performing Brecht’s La Bonne âme du Se-Tchouan.
Perennial and multifaceted, the contingent of performers from Wallonia and Brussels in Avignon ventured both dance and visual theatre, both circus and music (with, among others, Daniel Hélin and his Crépuscule des Idiots at the Théâtre du Verbe Fou). Daring and endeavours rewarded by a gratifying level of recognition.
This article is taken from the W+B Revue no. 125, to which you can subscribe free of charge.    

Isabelle Jans
Streets' atmosphere at the Avignon Festival
Street artists in Avignon
Poster of the Théâtre des Doms 2014
Show "Blackbird"
Show "Cordes"
Show "Et avec sa queue, il frappe"
Show "Mas-sacre"
Show "Silence"

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