A review of Faraway festival shows by YPAL
The last thing I expected to do on a Sunday morning was draw a stranger’s portrait. Although I had been participating in the YPALs conference for a few days by then, my experiences had been mostly as an observer, only occasionally standing up to dance during performances (it was part of the show, of course). So, when I arrived at the FRAC, right next door to Sciences Po, and saw a whole bunch of easels set up in a semi-circle around the artist, Olivia Hernaïz, I was a little surprised and a little giddy. Giddy, because I hadn’t tried my hand in the fine arts in quite a while.
The fact that I hadn’t made a portrait of a live artist maybe ever definitely showed as I started putting pastel to paper. I sat between two children, although it was my portrait that looked like it had been done by a five-year-old. At one point, after I had stepped away from the easel, a kind old lady walked by and asked the two girls on either side of me where their younger sister was– my portrait was so bad the woman assumed that it had been the work of a younger sister, not a nineteen-year-old art lover. My friend entered the FRAC, and in showing her my piece I laughed so hard that I almost started crying, disrupting the peace of the room.
While my piece may not have been what anybody was expecting, it still felt good to create something. The sheer range of emotions, whether excitement and expectation that surrounded the clean slate of my paper, or the overwhelming embarrassment and ridiculousness of my drawing itself, shook me. And, if you ask me, I really like my piece. Even though my depiction of the model looks like a scary monster, missing many facial features (I almost forgot to to draw the model’s nose), it was genuinely fun to color in the dark green of the model’s sweater and combine browns to make a hair color that felt satisfactory.
I am a Young Performing Arts Lover– and while this may have initially appeared to be a visual arts exhibition, it hit me as I left that this was a performing arts experience. The feel of interacting with the other artists, of looking at what they were doing, and being part of a micro-community, of interacting with the model, of discussing my work with the people around me, was interactive and almost performative. The model wanted to make a point. She was the orchestrator of this experience, of this interaction, and, although she was silent, she was the center of it. She reverses the creative process, so that the observers are the creators, with a focus on dialogue. I appreciate the opportunity that Hernaïz gave me. I only hope she doesn’t take offense at my truly abhorrent portrait of her.
I really had no idea what to expect when I sat down in my seat. After walking with the other YPALs to the theater at l’atelier, I realized that I really had not done my homework. And while normally that would bother me somewhat, I genuinely believe that my complete unawareness of what I was about to see made my experience even better.
I was confronted with a very large screen, and I shuffled into my seat with a pocket full of lollipops and no expectations whatsoever. Christiane Jatahy, the artist, introduced the piece, discussing it as a work about borders, about the border between cinema and plays, about the borders that separate people from countries, about the borders that separated people from their friends. And then I sat back and watched.
It took me a while to catch on that members of the cast were hidden throughout the audience. A man sitting near me loudly poured water into a cup, and my initial reaction combined annoyance with being impressed that somehow the sound of the water fit in with the rest of the show so well. It hit me when he began making popping sounds with the help of a prop. Again, I felt annoyed, but a sea of other popping sounds joined his, to make a sea of sounds that felt like splashes or intense, heavy rain.
The show was almost always surprising me, whether by the effectiveness of the director’s comparisons to The Odyssey, by the impromptu dance party just over halfway through, or by the bravery that it must have taken cast member Yara to tell a room full of strangers about her experiences being imprisoned in Syria just for trying to see her family.
I really liked the performance. I’ve studied The Odyssey before, and loved it. As a student of Political Science, I was very captivated by social commentary about humanity and the walls and institutions that separate us from one another. Although I was initially confused by the stories being told on screen, which combined lines from the Odyssey with refugees telling their own stories. But I guess that’s the point– Jatahy wanted us to be confused at first, to recognize her main point that everybody has their own odyssey. That odysseys were not just ‘things that happened’ over a thousand years ago, but people’s experiences and stories that are still taking place today.
As the first performance I saw while attending the YPAL conference, I was forced to think critically. The show really did make me rethink my own experiences and those of my friends, and really brought together the worlds of theater and society, setting the stage for a whole weekend of thought-provoking art and experiences.
For as long as I can remember, a common theme of my history classes has been atrocity. Atrocity, whether described by way of a particular historical moment or in a theoretical perspective, is often linked to the failure of democracy and the ways in which the organization of a society favors certain groups and discriminates against identities which are “inferior” to the norm. Walking into the main stage of the Comédie on Saturday night to see “Hate Radio: La Banalité du Mal”, I thought I had a grasp of what to expect. While I am no expert of the genocide that took place in Rwanda from the 7th of April, 1994 to July of that same year, I knew that the stories, actors, and main events of the mass slaughter were not foreign to me—this past fall I had even studied the role of the Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines for a project on hate speech. However, what I did not know, what I could not have expected, was the weight that would quickly fall onto the room once the lights were dimmed and each individual of the audience had placed their headset over their ears. Throughout 110 minute production, which was a combination of screened testimonies from witnesses of the genocide and live acting, I sat speechless, feeling like I was suffocating under the pressure of the stories I was listening to. While I can acknowledge that not one single viewer in that theatre could have taken any part of the show lightly, it was particularly difficult being a woman in that room. Sitting in the audience I listened to the four testimonials, all stories of people with various backgrounds and relations to Rwanda. In the third of the four depicted my hand I watched and I listened in horror, the entire time my hands covering my mouth. In his story, the young Rwandan man who spoke recounted the moment during the genocide when he was forced to flee from his home with his mother and siblings. The family took shelter in a school protected by the United Nations blue helmets, however, at one point a hutu militia broke in and began to massacre the tutsis hidden within. The man speaking on the screen, who must have been less than 10 years old at the time of the genocide, detailed how the women in the school building pleaded with the Hutu men, begging them for mercy. “Please take me as your wife instead of killing me. Please kill me quickly, I am pregnant. Please don’t rape me. Please don’t hurt my daughters, kill me first.” He took a pause before recalling how the officers responded: “the women’s breasts were cut off. The officer sliced open the stomach of the pregnant woman, letting her bleed. The woman was raped.” Sitting in the audience I felt paralyzed. As never before had I heard this version of the genocide, one that focused on the femicide. One that so graphically detailed how these women were raped, tortured, bodies abused and chopped up as if there was no life inside. The stories of atrocity we learn in our history classes often skip over these details; it should be remembered in history though, the deconstruction and humiliation of the female body. It should be remembered how the female
body is tortured and abused, and the role that women suffer in atrocity is in many ways, a story of its own. This theme continued in the next narrative, shared by a Rwandan woman who came from a township in a rural area; this women who looked so tired though she couldn’t have been older than 35 years old. She told the story of the day where Hutu militias stripped her mother down naked in front of her and her siblings, and murdered her right before their eyes. This was the same day where the same militants chopped off the legs of her two younger sisters and left them out to bleed. I remember squeezing my legs, making sure they were still there. This version of history, this narrative, the one of women, the one that we are rarely told in school will be the version that I will not be able to forget. The strength of storytelling in a theater, that sometimes we miss in the classroom or the academic scene, is that of empathy, compassion, and pain. In the theatre the artists are allowed to cross boundaries and borders, explore topics that might not be explored in academia, as a way to serve as an education, or sometimes a re-education, of the public. The exploitation of the female body in times of atrocity, particularly in the case of Rwanda, is the history that I will not be able to shake. *It is to note that none of the above is a direct quote from the narrator as I was unable to write done his precise phrasing in the theatre. The content is paraphrased but put in quotation marks for emphasis.
The region now called the Democratic Republic of Congo has been called many names throughout history. Each of the names marks a step in the colonisation and abuses it has experienced. The performance, written by the Congolese choreographer and director Faustin Linyekula tries to recount the horrific story of the atrocities committed to creating the Democratic Republic of the Congo and how this history impacts the country until today.
Congo kingdom, Congo Free State, Belgian Congo, Republic of Congo Léopoldville, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of Zaire, Democratic Republic of the Congo
The piece starts at the Berlin conference and how arbitrarily the European powers split up the continent with the ideal of a free state in mind and “help” the African people. Leopold, the King of Belgium, acquired Congo and started to extract rubber from it. We see three black people stand in front of the audience: two men and one woman. The older of the two men starts naming all the men who sat at the table that split up Africa. With every name one can feel chills, the potent anger of the man’s voice does what simply reading history can’t, it makes us feel the horror these men sitting at the high table have caused. We can feel the anger and the pain of the Congolese people radiating from the man’s voice. While he is speaking, the younger man dances a Mongo dance, and the contortions show a culture known in the audience has ever witnessed before. With each finger twitch, the incredulity of the audience grows for the unrestrained beauty of the dance. His movements are in complete harmony with the story told by the other man, the pain coming from his movements as well.
The spectators get shaken out of their reverie once the woman starts her dance. It is symbolic of the rape of the African continent. She dances, and with each of her movements, anger, frustration, and emanating sadness can be felt. Hers is probably the most intense of all the parts of the play already saturated with negative emotions. The man reads the diary entries of Stanley describing the burning of villages, the rape of the women, and the practice of cutting off hands. The play portrays the grueling process the Lieutenant Léon Fievez underwent to create the railway running through the country, through the dense forests, from the cost to Leopoldville. During the eight years it took to complete, around half of the Congolese population was killed.
Why we ask ourselves, why did these horrors occur? The answer lies in the fact that Leopold wanted to enrich himself. He wanted a private colony at all costs, and Congo turned out to be the collateral damage to his pursuit.
The concept of democracy is present in the play as we can see that the process Congo took ended up in the “democratic” Republic of the Congo. Moreover, the atrocities committed by the European powers were atrocities committed by democracies. It shows us the hypocrisy of our culture as the colonizers believed they were aiding the other countries. While our countries actually abused the relationship, killing people, and extracting resources from it to gain more wealth all in the name of developing the less developed and help them reach a similar state as us.
All the world’s in Reims│An insider takes on the FARaway Festival’s YPAL program – by Christina Piliouni
For a student, especially an international who still struggles to perfect her subjonctif, Reims can prove a challenging city to explore. Not because it doesn’t have things to offer -quite on the contrary- but rather because it is incredibly easy to get lost in ones’ university circles. Besides, friends’ apartments are close, and Bureau events are plenty. We don’t often move past our dorm rooms or campus because we don’t like to challenge ourselves.
But the artistic community of Reims is offering us students with an opportunity that is difficult to reject. An opportunity that made me, upon participating in it for the first time, reconsider the character of our town. It introduced me not only to new pieces of art and a refreshing group of people but also to original ideas that challenged the way I thought of the relations between art and politics. YPALS stands for Young Performing Arts Lovers and it is a program within the premises of the FARaway art festival of Reims that brings a few dozens of young artists under a Remois roof for a weekend of socialization, artistic exploration, and exposure to original art – and what a weekend it is.
Throughout those few, fleeting days the YPALS were given free tickets to some of the festival’s headlining shows – we got to see riveting work, the likes of Hate Radio, Congo, and the Lingering Now. They were all multifaceted and multidisciplinary shows, bending the boundaries of what cinema, theatre, and dance have to be. But what is unique about watching these shows through the YPAL program is that one gets to experience them alongside likeminded performing artists, that often have idiosyncratic takes to offer about the spectacles. Which leads me to the utmost point about the YPAL experience: the conversation.
Apart from ushering us to shows and giving us plenty of chances to relax and enjoy our environment, the organizers of the festival offered us the chance to participate in free debates amongst ourselves and reputable writers and artists. Imagine the scene: a few dozens of artists from different generations, discussing “between lands,” as the project is appropriately named, and expressing thoughts and counter-thoughts in many different languages via the help of internal translations on issues of democracy, public policy & art. Disagreements soon sparked amongst the cohort but discussions were always polite and respectful albeit being impassioned. We all learned from each other the days of the organized debates, most importantly, we learned that experience of art isn’t universal. We all think of its contribution differently, of how it should be funded or whether it should be regulated. Our conditioning and context greatly influence our politics and we absolutely cannot take other people’s experience for granted.
The program itself took us on a tour around Reims. Even for a seasoned “Remois” student who has lived here for two years, the locations were refreshing and showed the charming and active part of our town. Running from workshop to debate to show, we would shift between the Comedie of Reims, its Atelier, the FRAC (which, despite being right next to Sciences Po, most of us Sciences Pistes had never visited), and the wonderfully unique Manege. On the daily we were treated to elaborate lunches, brunches and dinners by the YPALs organizing team at the Comedie bar, which was dressed in Amazonian leaves for the imminent After Bresil bar night. We utilized these breaks as opportunities for reflection and connection – it is where the YPALs truly got to do what they were brought here to do: learn each other, explore cross-country narratives, opinions, ideas.
In Denmark little thought is given to African history, both contemporary and old. As a Danish student I was never expected to, tested in, or confronted with any history south of Italy. The atrocities that found their ways into our syllabus all took place on European soil. We learned about the mass hunt for witches through medieval times, the persecution of Protestants by Catholics, and the systematic execution of Jews during the Holocaust. And when we were presented with African history, they were snapshots and glimpses of colonialism through a European perspective. Aware of this blind spot in my education, I signed up to see – or rather listen to – Hate Radio, a
powerful reconstruction of the programs broadcast by Radio Mille Collines which played a central role in the atrocity that was the Rwandan genocide in 1994, at Le Comédie during the Faraway festival.
Walking into the amphitheater, I quickly realized that Hate Radio would be a different kind of theatre experience; on the seats were a radio and a headset. On stage was a large, square box fitted with screens on the sides. As soon as we’d tuned in to the radio, these screens started broadcasting. From them four individuals each told their heartbreaking story from the Rwandan genocide. It was captivating in a bewildering way. What they were describing seemed so inhumane, so brutal that the immediate impulse was to reject their stories as unbelievable. But then the screens went up and a recording studio appeared. We had been transported to the center of the unbelievable. Our headphones were now tuned into a recording studio in Kigali in 1994. It was no regular broadcast, however. Three hosts called for murder, persecution, and torture of Tutsis, and they did so in the most lighthearted manner. Intoxicated by the most appalling form of bloodrush, the broadcasters switched from calling for the decapitation of a listener’s neighbor to dancing to their favorite pop tune within mere seconds. I couldn’t believe what was unravelling before me. We were witnesses to a genocide through the mouthpiece of hate that was the Radio Mille Collines in 1994.
“How could this happen?” “How are humans capable of such evil acts?” “Can you even forgive such cruelty?” “Why did no one stop it?” The scenes that were unfolding before me provoked many questions. “Could any of this could happen back home?” I thought to myself. Of course, it could. It had happened during the Holocaust. It was the all too familiar story of a minority persecuted because of minority hate and authoritarianism. But this time it was not in a history book: it was in my ears, in front of my eyes, and happening in real-time. Hate Radio had given me a front-row ticket to the banality of evil.
When the broadcast stopped, I remained in my chair. I had travelled thirty years into the past for two hours and needed a few minutes to gather my thoughts. Then, when leaving the amphitheater, I felt grateful for living in a country where democratic institutions remain strong, hate crimes are punished, and multiculturalism cherished. But I left a little more wary too, a little more aware that. if not cared for, these pillars of society can come rumbling down over a summer.
The Reims Scènes d’Europe Festival is welcoming us from the Friday night to the Sunday for an incredible week-end full of shows, debates, workshops, great people and most important smiles!
PLEASE SUBSCRIBE HERE!
TEMPORARY PROGRAM OF THE YPAL MEETING
Friday 1st of February
17:00, Bar de la Comédie: Welcome drink
19:00, Atelier de la Comédie: Voyage d’hiver, inspired by Franz Schubert, text by Wilhelm Müller and Elfriede Jelinek – France, Austria – musical theater
21:00, Petite salle de la Comédie: Rebota rebota y en tu cara explota, Agnès Mateus, theater performance, in Spanish, subtitled in English
Evening, do what you want: free or workshop
Saturday 2nd of February
14:30-18:30, Comédie de Reims : FRAC Performance
14:30, Jardin Parallèle : Puppets
18:00, Comédie de Reims: Concert in the framework of the FRAC performances week-end
20:30, Opéra de Reims: La Belle au Bois Dormant Ballet / Yacobson Ballet
21:00, Grande salle, Comédie de Reims: Esto no es La Casa de Bernarda Alba (Ceci n’est pas La Maison de Bernarda Alba), text by José Manuel Mora de Federico García Lorca, directed by Carlota Ferrer, in Spanish with English subtitles
Sunday 3rd of February
12:00, Bar de la Comédie: Debate about digitalization, 2h
14:30 : Opéra de Reims: La Belle au Bois Dormant Ballet / Yacobson Ballet
14:30-17:30, Comédie: FRAC Performance
18:00, Atelier de la Comédie, European project Digital Natives Concord Floral, text by Jordan Tannahill, directed by Ferdinand Barbet with young spectators.
You can also download the program just here!
All the team is hoping that you will be there !
Anne Goalard and Alice Faure-Dumont met Marion Betriu and Natalia Alvarez Simó at the Teatros del Canal to talk about the creation of a Spanish YPAL group. After the presentation of the YPAL network and its ambitions, we communicated to them our desire to create a group of Madrid spectators from various horizons, to rethink the relationship between audience, live shows and Europe.
A call for applications will be launched by the theatre in the coming weeks to start this group, which Alice will be able to follow at its beginnings and part of which will come to live the Reims YPAL experience in February !
To be continued!
In the midst of heated political debate, photographer and actor Julien Allouf presents a fresh perspective on European identity with his exhibition “Europia #2”, with the scenography of James Brandily. Having spent 4 years exploring the European capitals, Allouf captures something that journalistic and touristic photography could never offer; a Europe of the people. The exhibition provides a perambulation of the institutional elements and the intricately different atmospheres found across the continent.
Europe of Urgency
Alluding to the fall of the Berlin wall and end of the Cold-War period, Allouf states how what began as a promise of peace and communion between people, now is seeing a vast degeneration. He began conceptualising his work during the Greek financial crisis, which was only the start of the beginning; the Hungarian border barrier of 500 km, Brexit, rise of nationalist tendencies in France… A political climate, which overtly puts in question the European common identity. Allouf wanted to portray the materialisation of this mythical concept, in how it actually shows on the streets of European capitals.
His exhibition includes a collection of small pictures, which he invites visitors to take with them. “I like the idea of them ending up where ever, like on a fridge or something.” Finally, he is highly invested in engaging with the reflections of his visitors, and hearing what resonated with them about the exhibition. This acknowledges the individual sentiments Europe evokes in us, and thus bounces back the focus of his exhibition to the original object of his study; the European people.