Just no yellow jackets.

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From Kirill Serebrennikov and Faustin Linyekula to Greek mythology: the Festival d’Avignon tries in vain to heal the contemporary malaise.

A horde of young women in everyday clothes populates the stage, in poses of the greatest everydayness, in the gesture of a contemporary society that is above all one thing: Cool. But then two rather mixed up guys appear and their desperate older mother: Iokoaste. Surrounded by a casual present, the old myth about the horror family of the Labdacids is to be told, with Oedipus and the squabblers Eteokles and Polyneikes, whose fight ends in death. Banlieuetheater director Daniel Jeanneteau has staged Martin Crimp’s version of Euripides’ “The Phoenicians”.

His stinkingly sour figures throw a lot of contemporary tubular steel furniture over the stage and the choir of the Coolen also becomes more and more nervous. Nevertheless: Jeanneteau’s production of Crimps “Alles weitere kennen Sie aus dem Kino” simply doesn’t bring myth and present together here; they occupy the same stage, but they don’t talk to each other. This is symptomatic of a festival edition that had set itself the task of healing the contemporary malaise with Greek myths, but could hardly redeem this programmatic claim.

The fact that curatorial messages are often hollow is nothing new and does not need to be disturbed. Because normally the festival in Avignon offers enough material for inspiration; then a performance raises an exciting question that continues and is reflected in other works. In the end you have a nice guiding idea, a new theory about God and the world and theatre. But such converging energies were completely absent from the festival this year. So a small collection of solitaires remains in memory.

From Moscow, Kirill Serebrennikov steers a staging

One of these works that speak only for itself is “Outside”. The production, which is again controlled from a distance in Moscow, is by Kirill Serebrennikov, who was only released from strict house arrest by the judiciary in April, but is still under travel ban. His work, accompanied by nuanced live music, pays homage to the Chinese photographer and poet Ren Hang, who committed suicide in 2017. The artist, who suffers from depression, threw himself out of the window. That was two days before a planned meeting with the Russian theatre director Serebrennikov, who wanted to propose a joint project to him.

Serebrennikov in particular with his theatrical creation “Maschine Müller”; Hang with his naked body images, often grouped in floral ornamentation, created in his own apartment or in unguarded nocturnal parks, published on his own Internet pages, which were then repeatedly blocked by the authorities. Hang was repeatedly censored, Serebrennikov the well-known Kafkaesque trial of alleged embezzlement, the Russian version of censorship. “Outside” is now both a defiant and intoxicatingly humorous pandemonium, a revue full of body images in which Ren Hang’s pictorial language is recreated on stage, while individual texts explore torn soul worlds.

Twice a window is the focus of attention. In the beginning, the slope actor Odin Lund Biron leans far out of the window and is held back by the fall. In the end, the entire ensemble sinks to its death with the artist in the thunderstorm of photo flashes. Art can bring the dead back to life for the duration of the performance, but it cannot completely overcome fate. “Outside” is a masterpiece of the congenial, a rendezvous between life and death.

Power theater with roar and scaffold decoration

Another, somewhat unfathomable monster of the festival was Meng Jinghuis’s guest performance of “La Maison de Thé”, after the Lao She piece written in the 1950s. A power theater with protagonists roaring alternately into the auditorium, a high potential for aggression, and a huge scaffold decoration around a huge wheel construction. After more than two and a half loud hours and the long existentialistic lament of a teahouse owner, it sets itself in motion and shreds its furniture under loud rumbling. Figures from three episodes of Chinese history had gone in and out before. It looked as if there was a vicious destiny machine at work, destroying Chinese existences, be they dynastic, republican or communist. The audience, lost in translation through far too fast surtitles, took this Chinese theatre, co-initiated by the people’s dramaturge Sebastian Kaiser, with patient bewilderment.

And another solitaire, this time a small one, now of the last festival days: Already in February, “Histoire(s) du Théâtre II” would have been a great success.

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Mette Frederiksen is a The Washington Newsday correspondent. With her coverage of general science, NASA and the interface between technology and society, Frederiksen has been in the Science Desk's Technology Beat since joining Washington Newsday in 2018.

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