Thursday, June 11, 2009

Performance Report: Antibes Street Theatre Festival

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As many of you know better than I, street theatre and circus are flourishing in Europe, thanks in no small part to government funding of the arts. The happy result is that it seems like every town has its street theatre festival, where you can spend the day or even a long weekend catching a wide variety of international performers and consuming a whole lot of calories. I think museums are okay in moderation, but hanging out at a performance festival, especially one outdoors, gives me a much better feel for a place and its people. The fact that it's free doesn't hurt either.

Antibes (France) had a three-day festival the last weekend in May — Déantibulations: Festival Arts de Rue — and I got to spend a good part of Saturday there. Antibes is just 20 minutes west of Nice and is known as the former haunt of Pablo Picasso and current site of a significant Picasso museum, the outside of which I distinctly remember seeing as I dashed from one performance site to the next.

Here are some video highlights of last year's festival:

And here's some footage I shot just to give you the feel of this year's event...
Disclaimer #1: Video Footage
All video is shot on a cheapo ($135) Flip camera and thrown together on the fly. Hey, it's only a blog!

Disclaimer #2: My Festival Attention Span
As much as I enjoy these festivals (coming soon: report on the Berlin Street Theatre Festival), I like to do other things too, so chances are I'm only going to see a fairly small part of the festival. I'm not attempting a comprehensive report, and for all I know I may be missing some phenomenal performances. As the French say, such is life.

The first show I saw was Hocus et Pocus, a comedy duo in diapers whose premise is that they are Siamese twins, joined together by a large plastic umbilical cord, each one unable to function without the other. Here's a YouTube clip of their work:

As you can see, they've got some truly nifty juggling/manipulation chops, and I found a lot to like in their work. They also do a lot of other stuff — knife throwing, music, a levitation gag, etc. — which you don't see in the above video; here's a quick look at their one-man band duet from Antibes:

At the festival, however, I felt the show needed to be a lot tighter (yes, shorter), especially running as it did close to an hour in the hot sun. The umbilical cord premise was interesting enough — the desire for freedom, the necessity of cooperating — but once you set up a push-pull relationship like that, I think it really has to become your story and you have to build everything around it. The characters have a situation to deal with and I wanted to see the tricks grow more out of their attempts to problem solve.
Disclaimer #3: Storytelling
Hey, I warned you in my blog intro (over there in the sidebar >> ) that I like physical comedy that deals with context and storytelling, but the flip side is that I'm over-sensitive to comic premises that get dropped half way through a show. It doesn't mean I can't enjoy the show, just that I'd like to see them go further with their ideas. Okay, so maybe I am too literal-minded....

Next up was a trio performing a piece called Le Tennis, basically a partner juggling act but two of the performers were opponents in a tennis match, passing and sometimes hurling the clubs at each other over the net, with a percussionist-referee providing comic commentary. They had changed the venue because of windy conditions near the waterfront, so I got there late and only saw the last half of this, but what I did see was performed with flair and considerable skill, and was quite popular with the crowd. The festival site doesn't provide any info on these guys, and I haven't found a web site link, but here's some footage I shot from the back of the crowd showing them mixing a little kung-fu with tennis and juggling.


While waiting for the featured evening act, I caught a few musical acts —a hip-hop group, a large ensemble playing Brazilian music, and a French reggae band — all a lot of fun, and also caught an interesting theatre piece by Sara Martinet called The Bath. This was dance, not physical comedy, but it had a nice sense of whimsy, inventive use of props, dynamic rhythm changes, and a performer with a strong presence and wide range of movement. The collaboration between dancer and percussionist (Jean-Philippe Carde) was excellent, and the score worked quite well with the movement. I feared it would be too dry and artsy for my plebeian tastes, but I thought it was excellent, as did the crowd.

Here's her Vimeo clip:

And here's some Flip camera footage of the piece at the festival:

Milo e Olivia in Klinke
Although this was a street theatre festival, several of the acts involved
elaborate set-ups that one would not usually associate with the low-maintenance mises-en-scène adapted by most street performers. Such was the case with Milo e Olivia, from Italy (Accademia del Circo di Cesenatico), by way of Blue Lake, California (Dell'Arte School) and Montreal (Ecole Nationale de Cirque), who drew a large crowd to their prime-time Saturday night spot.

Klinke, a "poetically comic new circus show," is the story of two oddballs — a porter and a vagabond who apparently travels the world inside of wooden crates — who meet, fall in love, flirt and fight, but in the end unite. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl. The plot doesn't always make perfect sense, and the skills are somewhat arbitrarily incorporated into the story. But so what? The performers were so engaging, the circus work so varied and at such a high level, and the non-stop inventiveness so refreshing that the end result was delightful. Here's a video from their web site, which will give you some idea of their work:

Unfortunately, I think this rally fails to capture the energy and the spirit of the live performance. Partly it's the classical music background, not in keeping with the show's eclectic music choices. (I especially liked their use of Bjorg's It's Oh So Quiet.) Partly it's just that video and live performance are not the same thing (so get off your ass and go see some live performance!). Here's part of their diabolo routine shot live in Antibes, though cut off when I ran out of batteries. (Note to Self #1: always bring extra batteries. Note to Self #2: read notes to self.)

Among his many skills, Milo is a master of the unsupported ladder. A couple of live clips from Antibes:

All in all, a good time...
You have to hand it to those French. As long as you don't actually read the pretentious program notes, much less expect the acts to live up to all that poetic hyperbole crap, they do produce some good shows and, as always, attract international talent that may not get as much support on their home turf.

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