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2014 The Current State of French Performance Art and Its Issues
 2014 The Current State of French Performance Art and Its Issues
Writer : theApro editorial team 2014.11.04 Europe > France

2014 The Current State of French Performance Art and Its Issues
[Festivals/Markets] FRANCE NOW! Connection Salon Talk

Sept. 18 in Daehangno was the fourth Connection Salon Talk. Started as part of the Connection Project affiliated with KAMS, the Connection Salon Talk is a place where the Connection Project participants as well as overseas experts share updates from their research and projects. It is also a forum where participants who have already participated in international collaborations can share their stories. The aim is that through a free exchange of opinion with participants, the project establishes a network for and provides information on international exchange in performance art. This talk was scheduled to follow the Avignon Festival in July, so that the Connection Project participants who took part in the “Korea-France Connection” through a research trip to France could share their experiences in France and the results of their research. The talk covered the research topics of each of the participants, with discussions on the present condition of French performance art and issues in the field.

iccpr2014 힐데스하임, 독일


[Connection Presentation]

Examining the Avignon Festival (Park Jung-je_Uijeongbu International Music Theatre Festival/Manager of International Affairs Team)

Avignon, the location of the Avignon Festival, is a small city in southeast France with a population of 180,000. The festival generally starts on a Friday in the first week of July—the start of the vacation season—and ends on a Saturday in the last week of July, consisting of both the “In” and “Off” festivals. There were a lot of changes in this year’s event, with the naming of a new art director. When it was announced that subsidies would be cut for full-time performance art industry workers, both full-time and part-time performance art industry workers came together to strike.1) The strike led to the Festival’s cancellation in 2013, but in 2014, thankfully, at least part of the festival was still able to take place. I was unable to catch <Le Prince de Hombourg> due to the aftereffects of the strike. The strike preceded the staging of <Orlando ou l’Impatience> from art director Olivier Py, with are citation of Victor Hugo’s preamble from a strike, however, and because the performance itself was rich in criticism of cultural policy, with a mocking, sarcastic attitude towards the minister of culture, in that sense the recitation itself felt like a part of the performance.

Of all the performances from Olivier Py, the first, <Orlando ou l’Impatience> was a piece with an interesting directorial style that portrayed the happenings of the son of a famous actress. <Vitrioli> a piece commissioned by the National Theatre of Greece in 2013 that premiered in France, featured dark yet violent music played under dark lighting. The stage was set up within a gymnasium, and the addition of black soil spread out on the floor contributed to a strange atmosphere. The last piece, <La jeune fille, le diable et le Moulin> had a similar feel to <Orlando ou l’Impatience>, and was reportedly very well received locally. Besides the above, Coup Fatal, staged as part of the “In,” was a collaborative piece between a Belgian director and a Congolese choreographer, as well as Congolese musicians, actors, and dancers, and had the warmest reception during the festival period. There was a sense of regret in the piece’s overall sense of completion, but it was a good example of a collaborative work. <Le Prince de Hombourg> staged within the Palace of the Popes, incorporated the castle walls into the piece as a stage prop, and presented a striking tableau. But because everything was in French, it was difficult to understand, and because the voices of the actors were not in the best condition at the time, it felt somewhat tedious. Mai, Juin, Juillet, begins with a scene from 1968, when the Odéon-Théâtre de l’Europe was occupied by university students, and because the content itself dealt with a lot of French events, the play came across as the most “French” play of all. It was also a play that received a lot of praise for its linguistic subtleties.

1)Related Articles : Weekly@Arts Management 265

2014 Poster of the Avignon Festival

<Le Prince de Hombourg>ⓒChristophe Raynaud de Lage

2014 Poster of the Avignon Festival <Le Prince de Hombourg>ⓒChristophe Raynaud de Lage

At this year’s Avignon Festival I was able to witness a side of France that endured inconveniences for the sake of necessity. Their protective attitude towards the French language and culture may inconvenience English speakers, but I viewed it positively as a determination to protect the culture of one’s own country. It’s my hope that Korea takes a page out of France’s book in this regard, for its own festivals. When I saw the staff of the festival join the workers of the arts and culture industry on their strike, taking the stage to let their voices be heard, it struck me that Avignon was a festival for the workers of the arts and culture industry. Witnessing the attitudes they displayed toward the industry workers and artists, I could sense the great pride that they felt for French culture.

Introducing French Theaters(Lee Hyun-jung_LG Arts Center/Senior Manager of Programming & Marketing)

I suspected that the reason the Korean performance pieces weren’t properly introduced at the Avignon Festival had less to do with the quality of the Korean pieces than a general ignorance of Korean performances and protectionism toward French culture. I suspected the same motivation can be blamed for the lack of consideration shown in the failure to provide subtitles—despite the fact that it was an international festival—and in the number of outdoor performances during the festival period. It did occur to me that I would prefer to see the performances in a very good theater, but it was nonetheless meaningful because I was able to meet and interact with the various people involved in the performances, receiving new ideas, inspiration, and passion through these exchanges. Of these, I’d like to discuss the performances I heard about from people involved in the theater community and the interactions between theaters.

The Nord Est Théâtre(NEST), located in the northeastern region of France, is situated in Thionville, which faces the Belgian and German borders. NEST hosts the Short Festival in early September each year, and 10 to 15 minutes are devoted to showcasing performances from every genre. When speaking of the aims of this festival, Jean Boillot, who has been the art director of this festival since 2009, said, “Short performances herald the beginning of all performances, and provide a foundation for development into longer pieces.” Due to its proximity to the borders of three countries, exchanges between NEST and other theaters in the area are animated. Currently, the theateing into training actors or growing audiences. NEST is also very interested in Korean theaters, to the extent that they ar has collaborated on performances with seven European performance halls, with the collaboration extendre hoping for an exchange with Asia in the future.


The Théâtre de la Ville in central Paris is famous for being the theater where Pina Bausch once debuted her new pieces every year. The Théâtre de la Ville and the Théâtre du Châtelet located across the street, which mirror each other’s appearance, are sometimes called twin theaters. The smaller stage of the Théâtre de la Ville features new and young artists, and the larger stage features well-known artists. Famous dance companies, including the likes of Rosas (Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker), Wim Vandekeybus, Maguy Marin, Alain Platel, and the Akram Khan Company debut their newest pieces at the theater, and it’s best known to us as a famous dance theater. Its fame comes from its multiple collaborations with numerous European artists, and about 40 percent of these collaborations are performances that the theater itself has made direct financial investment. Although it’s famous as a dance theater, with the appointment of director Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota in 2008, a variety of performances from the likes of the Berliner Ensemble, Robert Wilson, and Romeo Castellucci followed, with a balance achieved between music and dance. Currently the theater divides its stages evenly between four genres: plays, dance, music, and world music. These changes in the programming have generally been seen as a return of the Théâtre de la Ville to its roots, in reference to its origins as a multipurpose theater.

Théâtre de la Ville

Théâtre de la Ville

Théâtre de la Ville

The winds of change and visions can be discovered in many aspects of the Théâtre de la Ville. While all of Europe’s theaters are aging, the Subscription initiative from the Théâter de la Ville, as part of an attempt to attract future audiences, was particularly interesting. The Subscription Program does not require a separate membership fee; rather, subscribers can purchase admission to performances during a certain period of the year in a package format, and also receive the opportunity to reserve seats for performances in the next season about a month in advance of non-subscribers. It’s famous for giving subscribers far more opportunities to reserve seats, to the point where those who have purchased packages come before those who have purchased single tickets, and the latter may find it almost impossible to find seats. The performances are organized, in order of fame, into categories A, B, C, and E, and the system is complex enough that newcomers might find themselves studying it to understand. Currently, the tickets sales sold through the Subscription Program make up 80 percent of all ticket sales. However, responding to complaints that this program granted too few opportunities for ordinary theatergoers to purchase seats, the theater has recently limited the amount of tickets sold through the program to 60 percent of total sales. Thus, by also selling single tickets to regular theatergoers, the Théâtre de la Ville now welcomes a more diverse audience.

In preparing for the future, the Théâtre de la Ville is also exploring various ways to woo younger audiences—children and teenagers—through workshops held in conjunction with schools, meetings with artists, after-school performances and a variety of programs and strategies. Ticket sales for long-running dance performances drop the longer the show runs, but this is a necessary step in attracting new audiences. The Théâtre de la Ville is developing a variety of programs to attract a more youthful crowd, including audiences under 30, adolescents, college students, and regular audiences. Over the past few years the Théâtre de la Ville has hosted the Hermès-sponsored International Dance Competition, with cash prizes awarded to three winners and a 10-minute presentation shown to the audience. Admission is free for those who can obtain tickets, and one of the winners is chosen to perform. This selection is not made on the basis of who placed first in the competition, but rather according to whose performance has the greatest chance of succeeding. Although it is a dance competition, the winners are not limited to dancers; it’s possible to win regardless of your field, whether for your stage design, music, or stage props. There are two aims here: to discover new artists and to attract young audiences. Besides the above, the Théâtre de la Ville selects one Asian country each year and connects with a performance center there to hosts a festival. In 2016 this festival is scheduled to open in Korea.

The Théâtre du Rond-Point situated near the Champs-Élysées in Paris, is a play- and performance-centered theater established in 1980. The entire space consists of a total of three stages: one large stage and two smaller stages. Of their programs, their principal project involves pitting the works of an existing artist against one another, with the public selecting several pieces for a series of workshops, drama readings, residencies, and an overall process of creating a piece with the drama through various methods. Affiliated with the Écrivains Associés du Théâtre, the theater hosts a drama recitation once a month where a new piece is read to an audience, followed by a discussion between the audience and host on how this piece might be changed. This program left an impression on me because I could see that it had solidly established itself as a system—one that was successfully discovering new French writers. Excepting the fact that the writing had to be in French, the fact that an Asian piece had not yet been selected in this program gave rise to the thought that it might be a good idea for us to consider how we might get involved.

Théâtre du Rond-Point@Théâtre du Rond-Point Website

The more I saw of those involved in the theater community, the more I became convinced that international exchange is no longer a choice—it’s a necessity. No longer is it a matter of a select few; it is now open to all of us, and up to all of us to try. It is, however, something that does require some time, and I wondered if perhaps the time required is when we should be attempting to get to know each other better. Continuing such attempts to interact with each other (the theater professionals) while incorporating a long-term vision, it seemed as though the most important task at hand was to identify what we could do.

The Street Art of France and Korea(Cho Dong-hee_Seoul Foundation for Arts & Culture/Director of Festival Prodution & Planning Team)

“Street art” is art that has left the theater, art that has escaped what we conventionally and habitually view as sites for artistic expression, such as theaters and exhibition halls. In contrast to traditional and classical modes of expression, street art has a strong propensity towards mass appeal, and attempts to approach art and culture in a different way. In its mode of expression, it tends to favor group collaboration rather than a division of labor, and also toward the urban. And because street art frequently makes use of urban space and facilities, there is a lot of engagement with events, with street art displaying the characteristics of both “festival” and “event.” Whether it’s mixing genres, abandoning habitual modes of expression in their pieces, or attempting to collaborate directly with the audience, it seems that artists who approach projects in such a way become known as “street artists.”

Examining data from the early 2000s, groups that claimed to perpetuate French street art numbered at about 1,000, with about 400 circus troupes. Of these, examining the major groups, there was Transe Express a group that mostly performed acrobatic feats with cranes; Ilotopie a group that put on plays as well as performances involving sculpture; Oposito which specialized in large-scale parades; and finally, Générik Vapeur which borrowed extremely rough modes of expression to tackle political and social issues. There were about 200 street art festivals, with very small, regional festivals composing most of the 200, and with about 30 of the festivals big enough to be called major. Most of the festivals were concentrated in the period between May and September. The percentage of street art that was performed or distributed at a street art festival was only at about 20, but in this situation the festival itself took on the role of a hub, or spine, in the distribution of street art. Because most of the street art performances were free, without any ticket sales to speak of, most of the profit for the performing groups came from government-funded programs, or the market. Thus, the street art genre is one that cannot properly develop without the support of public policy. In the case of a representative street art festival, the Festival d’Aurillac, the festival arose as part of a strategy to improve the negative image of Aurillac, a small town situated in a mountainous region not easily accessible to visitors. Although most of the performances at the Festival d’Aurillac are free, some of the performances became paid performances, a move on the part of the organizers, to limit the number of audience members and ensure that the audiences would not crowd to one performance. The festival has a budget of about 150 billion, and even including the indirect support it receives from the municipal government the total scale does not exceed 200 billion.


프랑스의 푸노(위), 한국의 인천아트플랫폼(아래)

The Festival d’AurillacⓒFestival d’Aurillac Website
France’s Le Fourneau(up),
Korea’s Incheon Art Platform(down)ⓒFourneau/Incheon Art Platform Website

In terms of production space, street art is created outdoors and in the spaces where we live our daily lives, so it requires a lot of separate space for production. This need for a specialized space arose in the late 1980s. With the large-scale construction of such centers for production and creation in the ‘90s, the need for policy, artists, and festivals; the need for the stability of supply; regional needs; and the need for consistent support programs and a stable space were all introduced. Many production spaces were built after this, and in 2005 these spaces were funded through a national center called the National Street Arts Center. Representative spaces include the Centre National de Creations des Arts de la Rue, Lieux Publics, Marseille, Centres Nationals des Arts de la Rue(CNAR), Lieux de Fabrique des Arts de la Rue, and Lieux Pluridisciplinaires. These national street art centers are spread throughout the whole of France, and are run jointly by two organizations and seven festivals. Of these, L’Abattoir is a creation space built in a former slaughterhouse. L’Atelier 231 situated in the northwest region of Normandy, is a former railroad tracks factory that was converted into an arts and culture space that still retains vestiges of its former identity. It’s also one of the organizers behind the Viva Cité festival in late June. Le Fourneau was built in a former dock warehouse in a port city in the Bretagne region, and is similar to Korea’s Incheon Art Platform. Le Forneau is one of the co-organizers of the Bretagne region’s festival. Le Citron Jaune run by a theater troupe, differs from the aforementioned spaces in that it wasn’t converted from a preexisting structure, but built to order by the theater group. La Paperie situated next to the city of Angers, houses not only street art but also circus performances, as well as a circus school and cultural educational programs for children and professionals.

It’s been about ten years since street art really began to take off as a topic of discussion in Korea, but as a concept it has certainly begun to spread out, based on a few central festivals. At present, most of the major programs happen at several municipal festivals clustered around the capital and the Hi Seoul Festival. Most of the production groups are youthful, and a generous estimate would put the number of groups active in the street art field at about 100, give or take. The Seoul Street Art Creation Center is one of Korea’s representative street art spaces, situated between the Walkerhill Hotel in Gwangjang-dong, Gwangjin-gu, and the Hangang River. The space, formerly a water treatment center, has been undergoing construction since 2012 to be reborn as a production space for street art. The building was chosen as a creative space for street or circus art because its height, standing at 18 stories, was judged to be appropriate for creating sizable pieces or practicing circus tricks. Along with creative pursuits, the place will also lend out space and provide costume and distribution support for in-house productions. The newly built space is predicted to stimulate exchange through the nurturing of experts and regional social programs, and will also take on the role of an information center and archival center.

[Connection Talk]

Host(Kim Seok-hong, Director of the Korea-France Year of Mutual Exchange): KAMS Connection is a project launched in 2010 to strengthen the global reach of the performing arts by diversifying international exchange programs and collaborations, was well as strengthening the pool of professionals in the field of the performing arts. It’s also an all-encompassing support program that supports projects according to what stage they are in, through networking with overseas partners, for the purpose of strengthening long-term and short-term collaborative relationships with overseas organizations. With the United Kingdom, Germany, the United States, Finland, Australia, and Denmark, among other countries, under its belt, this year the project is preparing for a collaborative project with Malaysia. The discussion in today’s Connection Salon Talk will feature Connection Project participants Uijeongbu International Music Theatre Festival International Exchange team leader Park Jeong-je, LG Arts Center project manager Lee Hyeon-jung, and Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture Festival project manager Jo Dong-hee. First, I’m curious about how you felt toward your trip to France, and what sorts of ideas you received from this trip.

Lee Jong-ho(CID-UNESCO Korea president, art director at SIDance) :
I was a part of the KAMS Connection Project team that went to the Avignon Festival in France, and this was the first visit where I was able to stay the entire week to meet major figures. Personally, as someone who works at creating dance festivals, I was inwardly eager to discover good pieces and make good connections with the French dance world. I didn’t achieve all I anticipated, but I did make some gains during the trip. I used to think that concerns about what was Western and contemporary, and concerns about the unique identity of one’s nation were concerns of Asia—including Korea—Africa and Latin and South America, but in the pieces I saw during my trip, which brought traditional pieces to the stage and modernized them, I discovered similar concerns [among the French]. Witnessing the attempts to recreate, in a contemporary context, French tradition, which most certainly exists in the rural regions of France, I was astonished to find that there existed in France the same concerns as we had in Korea. And to find that it was the same not only in France, but also in Italy, Spain, Greece, Norway, and Sweden, and that they all shared the same concerns about how to modernize their unique traditions—this, from the perspective of someone working or managing in the dance world, was a new discovery.

Connection Project participants (From left to right, Kim Seok-hong, Lee Jong-ho, Park Jeong-je, Lee Hyeon-jeong, Jo Dong-hee)ⓒKAMS

Connection Project participants (From left to right, Kim Seok-hong, Lee Jong-ho, Park Jeong-je, Lee Hyeon-jeong, Jo Dong-hee)ⓒKAMS

Connection Project participants (From left to right, Kim Seok-hong, Lee Jong-ho, Park Jeong-je, Lee Hyeon-jeong,

Jo Dong-hee)ⓒKAMS


Audience : I’m curious about how Korean performing arts culture is viewed in France

Lee Jong-ho :
Even 10 years ago there was a huge gap between the two countries, but during this trip the gap didn’t feel so wide. With dance, even 10 years ago, introducing a good Korean performance would not have elicited much of a response. But the situation has improved and this year at SIDance 2014, we sent 18 groups overseas, including the groups scheduled to perform. Of course, there’s the fact that the quality of the pieces themselves has improved, but the significant improvement of the government budget and the administrative support also have to be taken into account. The industry management and the creation of networks through networkers were also contributing factors in these transformations. This year, participating in the Avignon Festival, the thought occurred to me that if we adjusted our attitudes and prepared a strategy we could most definitely make it to Avignon. Besides the above, I can identify several other factors that contributed to the improved reputation of Korean performing arts. First, the Hallyu phenomenon, which originated in popular culture, spread to the entirety of Korean culture as a whole, including traditional art, music, visual arts, and more. Second, the French as a nation tend to be adventurous about new things relative to other nation. The French are good at discovering artistic inspiration in Africa and Asia, and also excel at recreating what inspires them in a French context. Compared to other Asian countries such as China, Japan, and India, Korea is relatively unknown in France, which makes me think that the time is ripe for promoting Korean culture in France.

Audience : There were local critiques of the Avignon Festival, calling off half of a festival due to the strikes, and even in comparison to previous years there didn’t seem to be a huge difference, neither in overall quality nor in terms of the talent. The part that leaves a lingering regret is that you seem to have put a lot of emphasis on mere participation in the festival, without anyone else seeming to put comparable effort into promotional success. As far as I’m aware, there’s no separate funding for the Avignon Festival, but I’m wondering if there was some sort of policy in place for support.

Kim Seok-hong :
There’s no separate support system in place for the Avignon Festival specifically. The same applies for other festivals, such as the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Domestically, the representative support organization in the field of pure art is the Arts Council Korea and KAMS. With the Arts Council, because it’s so comprehensive, there’s no specific target. In the case of the performing arts, it can support “In” performances but cannot support the fringe-style “Off,” which doesn’t really have an invitation policy. There’s a condition for support, which is that we have to be officially invited, and invited for a fee. There was criticism that there wasn’t much effort put into the promotional strategy or ticket sales aspect of Avignon, but I feel a need for a strategic approach to even the “Off” section of the festival. With regards to a performance on the main stage of the “Off” festival, in particular, in terms of renting space or collaborative productions, I feel like there needs to be a lot of planning ahead.

Host : The aim of KAMS is to consistently support new projects and ideas generated through the support of research. I’m wondering what’s coming next.

Jo Dong-hee :
Because this research project was fit to the framework of mutual exchange between Korea and France, we focused on making connections with people. Besides the aforementioned events, there’s a collaborative production in the works, a project proposed in the street art world. We’re also planning to showcase two pieces that started in 2013 at the Hi Seoul Festival. Furthermore, we’re also preparing for the launch of a program that will be housed at a newly constructed space, built in conjunction with the “Korea-France Year of Mutual Exchange” during the construction period of the Street Art Creation Center. We’re planning a program that will cover the exchange not only of education programs and data archiving, or aspects of creation and distribution, but also the less directly related aspects of art.

Lee Hyeon-jeong : There’s a project that began with the “Korea-France Year of Mutual Exchange,” and within the project we’re discussing the possibility of collaborations and presentations. We’re continuing to push forward with introducing our theater productions in France, and preparing a theater showcase for the PAMS period. Instead of remaining tied down to the theater, we’re exploring options for collaborating with artists that are receiving long-term funding from the theaters; we want to give these artists opportunities from a variety of angles.

Park Jeong-je : We’re aiming to focus on inbound promotion for the 2015 festival. This research trip was less about actually selecting pieces, and more about actually seeing them. Collaborations usually last 1–2 years, and in the context of the festival we’re not putting the emphasis there. We remain in touch with the industry contacts we made during the research trip, and are interested in discussing the possibility of creating new pieces for next year and further on. If possible, our goal is to create an environment where these pieces can be shown in Korea.

※ 관련 기사 더보기
- [Trends] Connection Salon Talk - Odin Teatret and Per Bech Jensen
- [Trends] 2012 Connection Box (Academic Event for the Strengthening of the Global Influence of the Performing Arts)
- [Review] Academic Event for the Strengthening of the Global Influence of the Performing Arts ‘2011 Connection’


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