Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Review: The Festival d'Avignon Presents TUMULUS By François Chaignaud and Geoffroy Jourdain

TUMULUS attacks surrealism with as much intensity as absurdity.

Review: The Festival d'Avignon Presents TUMULUS By François Chaignaud and Geoffroy Jourdain

People often describe the imagination of a child as one of wonder or sweet innocence. The truth is, kids are weird and intense. They treat the oddest aesthetics with tragedian severity. François Chaignaud and Geoffroy Jourdain have captured such joyful oddity in TUMULUS, now performing in Avignon's La Fabrica. What results is a Seussian Gesamtkunstwerk.

A line of dancers silently enters through the audience. They collect on the stage. The scene is dominated by Mathieu Lorry Dupuy's set element, a massive somewhat geometric mound reminiscent of the Telletubby home. It's at this time we get the first hint of the true skill of the performers, as they become a choir, singing beautiful operatic chants a cappella. Over the next hour the cast folds movement and music in on one another. François Chaignaud's choreography includes shuffling feet, crabwalks, and images reminiscent of Greek pottery. It has the languid surrealim of Ballets Russes works like l'Après-Midi d'un Faune.

During this Festival I have been dismayed by disjointed moments of choreography, whether in Le Sacrifice and Futur Proche. Such moments don't let the eye rest on any vista and the specific interactions that dot the stage are rarely compelling. With TUMULUS such disjointed segments, apart from just being more interesting, are unified in a common musical landscape. The performers are perhaps doing their own thing in small groups. However, the sound they create blends into one musical unit.

It's rare that you see a composer given pride of place in the program alongside a choreographer in Avignon. However, the innovation and centrality Geoffroy Jourdain's music demands acknowledgement. All music occurs on stage, and the cast has been given only a handful of elements outside of their voices, such as cowbells and triangles, to work with. Thankfully, their voices do much.

Lighting designers Philippe Gladieux and Anthony Merlaud toggle the space from atmospheric to sculptural. In one brilliant sequence the set is bathed in a neon blue and transitions to green. It's the closest I've seen on stage to the colorized lighting effects of the original West Side Story film. Essential to the choreography and soundscape is the inventive costume design by Romain Brau. Costumes include glittering gold leg warmers, wild whicker headdresses, long flowing duvet jackets and open-chest leotards. It is the costuming of children who have decided to raid both the crafts store and their grandparent's closet. In short, it is joyful and imaginative.

TUMULUS attacks surrealism with as much intensity as absurdity. Dressed in outlandish outfits, performers often stare defiantly into the audience as they sing 16th century choir music. There is no need to ask permission or borrow dignity, they have their own.

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.