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Cour d’honneur du Palais des papes

Outwitting the Devil
Le Festival d'Avignon
5.0Reviewer's Rating

At the Cour d’honneur of the Palais des papes, Akram Khan presents a great choreography directly inspired by the Epic of Gilgamesh, an old founding epic poem. In an oneiric and disturbing way, he sets a violent episode of Gilgamesh’s youth. The old man, now close to death, remembers how he domesticated the wild man Enkidu and explored wilderness, its savage beasts and spirits with his new friend. Because they killed the guardian of this sacred forest, the gods took revenge by sentencing Enkidu to death. Nevertheless, Gilgamesh succeeded in founding the mythic city of Uruk.

So Outwitting the Devil is both a personal tragedy and a founding narrative. Fascinated by founding myths, Akram Khan invites us to return to the sacred origins of live art and the whole show can be interpreted as a long ritual. Indeed, from the beginning of the choreography Gilgamesh holds a rectangular black stone, which can functions both as a metaphor of a tablet or of a tomb, as it looks like a miniature version of Gilgamesh’s deathbed. But beyond this free adaptation of the Epic of Gilgamesh, other interpretations are possible (fortunately, most of the people may not have this reference!). To me, this unclassifiable performance seems more like a (waking?) nightmare. And indeed the tone is set since the beginning: “Night after night, I do the same dream”. I saw in this choreography a man fighting against his own demons, trying to escape, tame and kill those devilish creatures which haunt his mind. The stage then looks like a huge mental space unveiling the unconscious of the man tortured by those visions. The aesthetic of the show in general, and certain scenes in particular, for instance when the old man meets the wild beasts, even make me think about a horrifying painting: the famous Nightmare, by Henry Fuseli.

Many other interpretations can be considered, and it is thanks to the great performance of the dancers. Ching-Ying Chien is particularly impressive (her screams may be silent, it is chilling!), as well as James Vu Anh Pham. This performer did one of the most beautiful apparitions on stage I have ever seen. He emerged from the smoke, from one of the arch of the cour d’honneur, at the same time extremely flexible and double-jointed, with a remarkable presence on stage. I have to applaud as well the performance of Mavin Khoo, who succeeded in learning the whole choreography in one night and one day to replace Andrew Pan. In this oneiric and troubling world, bodies are transformed into bestialised or tortured ones. Each contact between these becomes fearsome, all the more so their movements are often accompanied by the beautiful but disturbing music composed by Vincenzo Lama. The dancers may not exit the stage undamaged, and neither do I. For sure one of the best performances of the festival.

Summary in French:
Sur la prestigieuse scène du Palais des papes, Akram Khan nous propose une performance très librement inspirée de l’Épopée de Gilgamesh. Un spectacle audacieux, inclassable, qui renoue avec les origines sacrées de tout art vivant en même temps qu’il laisse le champ libre à de nombreuses interprétations. Une merveille !

  • Text by Jordan Tannahil
  • Artistic Director/Choreographer: Akram Khan
  • Music by Vincenzo Lamagna
  • Lights by Aideen Malone
  • Cast: Ching-Ying Chien, Mavin Khoo (understudy for Andrew Pan), Dominique Petit, Mythili Prakash, Sam Pratt, James Vu Anh Pham
  • Cour d’honneur du Palais des papes

About The Author

Reviewer (France)

She is passionate about theatre. After studying in literature classes, she obtained a degree in French literature at La Sorbonne Nouvelle University.

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