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Report: Avignon festival

Avignon Festival is now "Open!"

"Open!" put on by Group F opened the 67th Avignon Festival
"Open!" put on by Group F opened the 67th Avignon Festival © Ilka Kramer

The first day of the 67th Avignon Festival was a delight for the senses, with a fireworks show to boot.

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At least a thousand people - locals from Avignon and the outskirts, as well as visiting festival-goers - poured into a gravely enclosure about a kilometre outside of the city walls on Friday evening, to watch a masterful, wall-embracing show called "Open!" put on by Group F, who are known for their international extravaganzas.

Group F organised the fireworks display in Paris for the New Millenium and have done many opening ceremonies around the world since then.

Dossier: Festival d'Avignon 2011

The festival commissioned Group F to open this 67th year, and to highlight the opening of La FabricA, a new theatre residence and rehearsal space set up by the government-funded festival.

Group F performed against Scott Gibbons’ electro-acoustic music and glass-breaking sound effects. Moving images ranging from childrens’ drawings to video game backdrops, and various realistic optical illusions were projected on two sides of the enormous block that is La FabricA.

Suspended from wires, the Group F performers wore light-bulb suits and moved over two walls of the building, choreographed and synchronised in response to the images. For the finale, they donned suits of fireworks and turned into firebirds. However, they stopped short of taking off from the building’s roof.

Also on Friday afternoon, more serious stage productions began, in what promises to be a year of bittersweet offerings.

Even in the Group F performance, there was a scene where the light-people were trying to find their way out of a prison, like mice in a cage, and another where they were on an image of glass which was gradually shattered by stones or bullets.

One of the first plays was a mixture of play indeed, with the use of a game of ping pong. China’s national game was coupled with a dark view of China, showing the effects of totalitarianism. For that matter, the US and Spain aren’t let off the hook either.

From Spain, Angelica Liddell uses her play as an ode to freedom of expression and activism. In her Ping Pang Qiu, she expresses her anger using Coca-Cola, Chinese noodles, table tennis and the myth of Orpheus and Euridyce. She describes how essential it is, even if you love, like she loves China, to be free to say what your conscience tells you.

In addition to Ping Pang Qiu, which is in Spanish, Liddell also directs Todo el cielo sobre la tierra (El Sindrome de Wendy) or All the Sky under the Earth (The Wendy Syndrome) which is in Spanish, Mandarin and German. For good measure, the subtitles are in French.

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