This new international festival in Limoges created in 1984 by Pierre DeBauche after the Avignon Festival refused to accept a production of Shakespeare proposed by Martinique, put in place a new relationship with international Francophone theatre. One could say that Aimé Césaire’s first decision in Martinique, to create the Théâtre de la Soif nouvelle in 1982, giving voice to the Negritude in companies around the world, gave a serious impetus to the creation of the festival in Limoges.
Monique Blin became the director of the new Festival in France with the support of director Patrick Le Muff who returned again this year (2018) to present a play by Nathalie Sarraute–Pour Un Oui Ou Un Non, in a production with a Creole-speaking cast of mixed ethnicity from Martinique, the sign that times have certainly changed.
The festival has become an enormous international event which receives not only former French colonies who are now independent but all countries where French is one of the official vehicular languages. Coproductions are developed among all the countries involved and some of the most important names in contemporary theatre have resulted from the collaborations established within the festivals. Artists such as Denis Marleau, Carole Frechette, Wajdi Mouawad, and Robert Lepage from Quebec; as well as Slimane Ben Aïssa, Mohamed Kacimi, from Algeria, Jean-Luc Raharimanana from Madagascar, and many many others, were recognized by the festival.
This year’s director Marie-Agnès Sylvestre whose mandate comes to an end will be replaced in 2019 by Hassane Kassi Kouyaté. Originally from Burkina Faso, Kouyaté is an established actor, director, dancer, musician, theatre manager, a griot and storyteller and artistic director of a company Deux Temps Trois Mouvements, who has worked with African theatre companies and was acting for the Tarmac and other companies in France. Since 2014 he has been artistic director of Tropiques Atrium, the “National Theatre” in Fort de France where he has reestablished actor training across the Caribbean by local professionals and individuals invited from Europe, and directed many plays which were also shown in France-Europe at the Theatre du Tarmac in Paris.
Kouyaté’s new presence this year in Limoges is an important sign because it is the first time an artist of African origin has been selected to direct the festival, showing how that event is finally the real voice of all cultural origins which brings together many languages including French as the defining one.
This year’s festival featured among others, a striking work by Haitian writer Faubert Bolivar, representing a sample of the multiple sponsored coproductions that are emerging from the festival: Sainte Dérivée des Trottoirs (the Holy Spirit from the sidewalks–a personal translation). An extraordinary actor (Vladimir Delva) who performed the 50 minute monologue, also worked on added portions in créole with director Alice Leclerc who imagines the presence of a grotesquely exciting creature drowned in garbage, whose physical and visual existence is apparently not indicated in much detail by stage directions thus the staging team had almost as much input as the writer.
The result is a ritual and a breathtaking performance based on the syncretic origins of Haitian culture. The choice of the performance space, the Bishop’s garden behind the Cathedral, becomes a place of wild transgression and the meeting of figures from the Voodoo Pantheon with the Catholic traditions of Europe. The Vévés figures drawn in the sand defining the presence of the Loa Erzulie, incarnated by Delva as he emerges from an ominous pile of leftovers behind the Cathedral. Garbage, bits of wire, tin cans, papers, dirt, plastic and all manner of leftovers, suddenly glow with a strange ethereal light. And then “it” appears screaming, spitting howling, screeching, a creature performing its delirium, its rage. As it calls out to the audience in French and Creole damning her/his mother, her father, vomiting outrage against the world, screaming against the stupidity, the poverty, the cruelty in the world in his search for identity which is incarnated by his ambiguous gender presence on the stage. A highly disturbing and surprising first contact which becomes a form of syncretic resurrection as this holy woman in all her raging splendor splashed with filth, a Christ-like figure associated with Erzulie, the Loa of love and seduction who protects children, the leading figure of the Voodoo pantheon drags her long veil of clunking garbage behind her as she rises out of her “alter” and starts to move across the garden, following the paths of the glowing alters and all the Haitian symbols drawn in the sand.
The performance thus becomes a ritual of self-immolation that refers constantly to the “rara” where this ambivalent figure representing all the “damned of the earth” loses her saintly garb and becomes an almost naked male figure, exposing the real body of the actor, a Haitian Saint Genêt, devoid of its religious hypocrisy and horror. The final moment is expected because not even a Loa could survive this world of violence where biblical passages, Christian sermons, and the seductive words of Erzulie are insufficient to denounce the obscenity of our current reality. The figure leading the procession takes on the allures of a fallen prophet, denouncing corruption, guiding the public towards its disturbing destiny in a magnificent poetry of destitution, sending us forward to an unavoidably tragic ending.
Faubert Bolivar, of Haitian origin, is an author who is quickly making a name for himself in the region. Recently he won the prize for a new play awarded by the Guadeloupe based group “Textes en paroles;” he also obtained the SACD prize in France (Société des auteurs et compositeurs dramatiques) which often ensures the future of a playwright.
The rara, a voodoo ritual in the middle of the night, also transforms the author’s rage into a demonstration of political theatre founded on forms proposed by Piscator (agit-prop 1930s ) turning the procession into a site of political agitation and propaganda that was especially important in the USA during the anti-Viet-Nam war demonstrations in the 1960’s and 70’s. The author’s rage could even be equated with a current political rage that is polarizing the country. The result is all the more fascinating because this director was able to bring together multiple cultural and political visions that renew all the references usually associated with those events. Keep your eye on this playwright!
Limoges, October 2018
This article first appeared in Capital Critics’ Circle on November 14, 2018, and has been reposted with permission.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.