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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)

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