Report: Avignon Theatre Festival 2014

Robyn Orlin's thoroughly modern spectacle intrigues at Avignon

Robyn Orlin : At the Same Time we Were Pointing.
Robyn Orlin : At the Same Time we Were Pointing. Christophe Raynaud de Lage / Festival d'Avignon

South African choreographer Robyn Orlin directs the Senegalese JANT-BI troupe in the heftily-titled At the Same Time We Were Pointing a Finger at You, We Realised We Were Pointing Three at Ourselves. It's in French, English and Wolof...


It’s hard to sum up Robyn Orlin’s work because it’s so complex.

Her titles are often long (In a World Full of Butterflies it Takes Balls to be a Caterpillar, or Have you Hugged, Kissed and Respected Your Brown Venus Today), and demand contemplation.

About At the Same Time.. she says, “It’s a feeling that I have about us Africans that we are looking more carefully at ourselves and that we are responsible for ourselves. It’s very important to be in the world and be responsible for ourselves and not feel like victims all the time.”

Interview with choreographer Robyn Orlin

So in this piece, there’s food for thought. The dancers interact with the audience, in a way that demands we ask ourselves how we deal with whoever is different from ourselves, and also for example, how we deal with smartphones in an era where the ping signalling an incoming message is no longer considered as an interruption. The selfie is at the heart of the performance and the phone serves the artist’s aim in this piece.

There’s food for the eyes. An installation-décor of coloured plastic basins made in Senegal, colourful costumes ranging from flourescent sports gear, to crazy ceremonial spoof (an animal skin made out of fluffy toys), and pink bunny ears and designer underpants.

There’s food for the ears and soul. As well as some chant/song in Wolof to go with the ceremony, the rubber flip-flop becomes musical instrument, and the eight male dancers fill the Gymnase du Lycée Aubanel with an energy that is sometimes casual, sometimes frenetic, under lighting which is often like the streets of Dakar after dark, or else like a dance under a glaring sun.

Orlin is working for the first time with a company from Senegal, JANT-BI, from Germaine Acogny’s L’école des sables.

Their work is based on a traditional coming-of-age ceremony around the lion, which Orlin hopes will regain lost meaning through their revisiting the ritual through a contemporary dance peformance.

If you miss it in Avignon, this piece is scheduled to play at the Theatre de la Ville in Paris in the coming season in 2015.

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