Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Review: The Festival d'Avignon Presents IPHIGENIE By ANNE THERON

Anne Théron's direction with Thierry Thieu Niang's choreography is dynamic.

Review: The Festival d'Avignon Presents IPHIGENIE By ANNE THERON

"Who's in charge here?" seems to be the question ringing though Anne Théron's powerful production of Tiago Rodrigues's Iphigénie, currently residing in Avignon's beautifully restored opera house. Power over memory, which dictates the proceeding actions, is bartered over between the characters and a chorus. There are memories they are unsure of. There are memories they are certain of. Sometimes a memory is a dead end, and sometimes it's the crack in the wall. Though it is not just power over memory that is being determined. Power over people, one's own actions, and the capacity to control one's own destiny are also in play. With the TNS, Théron has made the story of Iphigenia heart breaking and gripping, timeless and current.

Rodrigues's plot doesn't stray far from the canon. King Agamemnon waits with Menelaus (Alex Descas), for the wind to pick up so that their ships can sail to Troy. It's decided that Agamemnon must sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia (Carolina Amaral), in order to achieve this. He agrees, sending out a letter to her that she must come to the army camp in order to marry Achilles (Joao Cravo Cardoso). When she gets there with her mother, his wife Queen Clytemnestra, he has a change of heart. Though Ulysses (Richard Sammut) and Menelaus hold his feet to the fire, and he decides he has no other choice. Iphigenia is sacrificed.

It's all very humorless. The stakes begin and remain astronomical throughout the production. Between this intensity and Barbara Kraft's funereal costumes and low slate platform set, you'd think the work might become monotonous. Instead, it is gripping. Rodrigues's text, translated by Thomas Resendes, is unshowy and archaic. People say what they mean and the poetry of the work comes in the fractured quality of memory. "Clytemnestra sits down next to Agamemnon." "No, I'll stay standing." Sound design by Sophie Berger mixes harsh industrial noise with operatic chords, cutting to the quick. Benoit Théron's lighting doesn't let its invention interfere with the piece's stoic mood. Perhaps most of all, Nicolas Comte transports the audience with stunning projections that shift between photo realistic beach scenes, to an abstract manifestation of the off-stage tragedy.

Performances are strong all around as Rodrigues's Iphigenia is an ensemble piece at heart. Though there's little doubt that the work is held primarily in the hands of Mireille Herbstmeyer as Clytemnestra and Vincent Dissez as Agamemnon. In one heart breaking scene Clytemnestra stoically informs Agamemnon that he has a choice. That he can give it all up. Being king, being Greek, it's just one option. Running away is a choice. Agamemnon asserts that he must set an example. The question remains, an example for whom? The piece isn't Pollyanna in its pacifism, it's pragmatic. Who is this war for and who is benefiting from it? What outcome do you think this will come to? "I won't be the first king to be killed by his queen," says Agamemnon "Yes, but none will have deserved it as much as you."

Anne Théron's direction with Thierry Thieu Niang's choreography is dynamic. Every actor hums with potential energy waiting to be released by a memory, their own or someone else's. With their outside vision of the plot Julie Moreau and Fanny Avram as the chorus push characters along to their breaking point, though they are open to collaboration. They recognize that other people remember too, perhaps better than they do. Their priority is that the events keep moving.

Photo Credit: Christophe Raynaud de Lage

From This Author - Wesley Doucette

Wesley Doucette is a PhD student in French Literature at the CUNY Grad Center. His research focuses include French cultural institutions such as the Festival d'Avignon and the innovations of administrators... (read more about this author)

Review: The Festival d'Avignon Presents THE LINE IS A CURVE By Kae Tempest
July 28, 2022

The 76th Festival d'Avignon officially concluded last night with Kae Tempest's The Line is a Curve at the Cour d'Honneur. This is the fifth album by Tempest. Previous works include Brand New Ancients, which I had the benefit of seeing some years back at New York's St. Ann's Warehouse. Their work in that instance was a transporting piece of storytelling. It was a very sober affair. The Line is a Curve started that way, but quickly became the cathartic rock concert to end the annual Festival.

Review: The Festival d'Avignon Presents SILENT LEGACY By Maud Le Pladec and Jr Maddripp
July 28, 2022

Silent Legacy, now in performance at the Festival d'Avignon's Cloître des Cèlestins, asks questions about points of exchange. The relationship between the dancer and choreographer is complex. Literarily focused theatre's collaborative quality sometimes benefits from the boundaries made by script writing. In this way, the playwright has a product outside the performance. In most instances with dance, the work can only exist within the body of the performer. Silent Legacy presents its audience with two such points of exchange.

Review: The Festival d'Avignon Presents RICHARD II By Christophe Rauck
July 25, 2022

According to a poll taken in 2016, a little more than half of all British people have seen or read Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. That number dips just below half for Macbeth and Midsummer. The Tempest rounds out the Top 10 at 22% engagement. Deep down in this list at 7%, tucked between Merry Wives of Windsor and Love's Labour's Lost, is Richard II. This obscurity was seen as a feature not a bug for Jean Vilar when he opened the first Festival d'Avignon with Richard II in 1947. Since this performance, the play has become something of a hallmark of French theatre. This year, Christophe Rauck adds his own directorial vision at the Festival's Gymnase du Lycée Aubanel with Micha Lescot in the title role.

Review: The Festival d'Avignon Presents DU TEMPS OÙ MA MÈRE RACONTAIT By Ali Chahrour
July 25, 2022

One of the most famous images of 20th century theatre is that of Brecht's Mother Courage who, when told she needs to remain incognito when her son is shot, offers a silent scream. In Ali Chahrour's Du Temps Où Ma Mère Racontait, now in performance at Avignon Université's Cour Minérale, Laïla Chahrour similarly unhinges her jaw into a scream, though it's anything but silent. Undergirded by musicians playing behind her, she cries into the audience, her voice rising into the starry sky. In the face of all the tragedy she has explored with her family, it is a resonating moment of catharsis.

Review: The Festival d'Avignon Presents LE SACRIFICE By Dada Masilo
July 25, 2022

Choreographer Dada Masilo, a South African native, studied dance at Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's school in Brussels. While there she developed an appreciation for the grand patrimonial dance-works. Her company, Dance Factory Johannesburg, has made a name for itself through oftentimes-comedic deconstructions of European classics like Swan Lake, and Giselle. In Le Sacrifice Masilo has decided to address a different dance classic, Le Sacre du Printemps. It was a long road to the Festival for Le Sacrifice, now performing in Avignon's Cour du Lycée Saint-Joseph. The piece has been twice canceled due to Covid. While her movement vocabulary lacks in imagination, the performances themselves were thrilling.