Dance struggles to maintain its footing at Avignon Festival

Dance pulled the short Covid straw at this year’s Avignon festival. Firstly, the choreographer Dada Masilo could not travel to the event in the south of France with her long-awaited new show from South Africa, The sacrifice. Greece’s Dimitris Papaioannou, who was already unhappy last year when he would open the festival before it was canceled, also pulled out after several members of his artistic team tested positive.

Both are among the world’s leading dancers, and as a result, Avignon’s dance line has been left exhausted. Two performances that did reach the open air stage, Mylène Benoit Archaea and Jan Martens’s Any attempt will end in broken bodies and broken bones, was little comfort.

Benoit and Martens both go for great explanations, without much choreographic means to support it. Archaea is a serious ode to the matriarchy for seven female dancers and two musicians, but singing, whispering about genital mutilation and half an hour of naked body paint can not quite paper on the lack of original material.

Martens, meanwhile, refers to a hole-in-one causes in his new work, from misogynistic trolls to the menacing line of the title. The soundtrack also features an excellent rendition of English poet Kae Tempest, who declares, “My country is coming apart.”

Jan Martens’ ‘Any attempt will end in crushed bodies and broken bones’ © Christophe Raynaud de Lage

It would be delightful if it had something to do with the dry, highly repetitive choreography, and most of it was tuned to an endless loop of a Görecki earworm, his harpsichord concerto, Op. 40. This is minimalism from the 1970s without Lucinda Childs’ intricate patterns: at one point, when the cast, who were between 16 and 69 years old, walked back and forth in basic lines, I saw their steps as entertainment. ★★ ☆☆☆

It was left to Phia Ménard to form powerful theater out of her worries. At Avignon’s Opéra Confluence, the French director and choreographer unveils her completion Trilogy of immoral stories (for Europe).

Ménard is a very meticulous artist, building more than three hours of architectural brainstorming as metaphors. In the first part, Mother House (created in 2017), she appears in a complete punk battle to construct a replica of the Parthenon out of cardboard. Dan, in Vader Templefour artists are taking increasing risks to build a sturdier, phallic tower, spurred on by a cult-like leader, the excellent Icelandic singer Inga Huld Hakonardottir.

It is an immediate achievement of engineering and a display of physical exploitation, in direct contrast to Ménard’s dubious Greek temple. When she returned, naked and armed with paint in the short lock, Prohibited meeting, she has completely drawn the audience into her ominous world – and it deserves to be seen beyond the borders of France after the pandemic. ★★★★ ☆

Until 25 July

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