This Wednesday, September 22 opens the festival “Les Zébrures d’Automne” of the Francophonies, from writing to the stage, in Limoges. In this unique theatrical laboratory, around fifty shows, including twelve creations, await the spectators. At the same time, the director Hassane Kassi Kouyaté expresses a deep concern about this festival without a real permanent workplace: “What place do we give in France for French-speaking creation in France? “.
RFI : Why is the Zébrures d’Automne des Francophonies in Limoges presenting a focus on the Middle East this year? ?
Hassane Kassi Kouyaté : It is important for us to take time in parts of the world to talk about the realities of Francophone creation, the languages spoken in these regions. In each edition, we focus on a part of the world. Last year it was Africa. This year, it’s Asia and the Middle East, with creations from Lebanon, Palestine, India…
Since August, Afghanistan has been in the heat of the news. You welcome to the festival A stone of patience, a play by Franco-Argentinian director Clara Bauer based on the Franco-Afghan Goncourt Prize novel Atiq Rahimi. How does this text echo the hottest news? ?
In fact, it is the news that caught up with our artistic project, because the decisions around our artistic creations are taken a year and a half or two years in advance. For us, it was important, when we talk about Asia and the Middle East, to call on established artists like Atiq Rahimi, a complete artist who expresses himself in several artistic fields. This creation is the result of a meeting between Franco-Argentina Clara Bauer and actors and musicians from India. It was very important to bring together artists from several regions of the world. The story ofA stone of patience speaks of the freedom of women which is today a universal question.
Odile Sankara, the younger sister of Thomas Sankara, is preparing a staging of a text by Cameroonian Leonora Miano, And let my reign come, which imagines the reign of the feminine. What is the originality of the approach of the Burkinabè director? ?
Like many designers today, Odile Sankara examines this question of the feminine, of parity, of gender. She has been in this fight for a very long time, and this in a country and on a continent where these questions of the woman artist are asked at all times. But Africa is not the only continent affected by these kinds of concerns. To do this work, Odile calls on a great author, Leonora Miano. It is also the meeting of two great ladies to shed light on these concerns. The originality is that they are two women of talent, conviction, who meet and bring together other women from other countries, with Florisse Adjanohoun from Benin and Safourata Kaboré and Emmanuel Rotoubam from Burkina Faso to question the feminine power through this theatrical work.
Your festival invites artists from all over the world : from India, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Lebanon, Japan, France… The Covid pandemic, how has it affected the theater community in these countries ? What feedback have you had from the artists present in Limoges? ?
I first pay tribute to all the artists who try to stay in life, in creation, in art, in their profession, despite these difficult conditions in which we are taken to isolation. Art is first and foremost made to meet the other. These artists are in perpetual combat. What was difficult for them was not the practice of their art, the rehearsals or the work, but the sharing of their work. This is what becomes difficult with the public, everywhere. We, the problem we are faced with is the movement of artists.
An example ?
We had a great project that came from Madagascar, wrap, with Claude Brumachon and Benjamin Lamarche. They had left to work 15 Malagasy dancers. They were supposed to come here, but they did not have a visa, because they were not vaccinated, etc. Even I, at the programming level, we have changed our minds. We were more ambitious in our programming, we had planned parts that were to come from Iraq, Thailand, but for reasons of Covid and circulation, these parts could not come. So this pandemic is now playing on our profession, on creation, on sharing art with as many people as possible.
Where does your fear come from that containment measures and health restrictions may serve as a pretext to erect new barriers and borders preventing artists from coming outside Europe? ?
We cannot deny that there is a pandemic. She is there, she is real, she hurts, she kills. She also kills life [artistique]. For me, nothing should stop life. And I am afraid that the pandemic is not sometimes a pretext to further increase the barriers. That is my point of view, because in some cases, in my opinion, there are things that are not justified. So, what should we do next? How are we going to reinvent all of this? We are in the process of defending digital technology, that we must put everything on the Internet, on video, etc. So much the better, these are added values for us, but that cannot replace the human encounter.
Has there been more sharing via digital networks through digital or hybrid shows ? What is your analysis : is there a movement in this direction ?
There is a certain type of sharing in the digital realm. A certain type that I do not advocate. How many people can say that they have seen, sitting in front of their screen, three, four, five pieces, from A to Z? So on site, in a festival, you can easily see two or three shows in two days. Nothing can replace these live moments of artistic “mass” between artists and the public. What do we really take away from these digital moments? I very much doubt it. And these are not the reasons why I would like to make art.
Since 2018, the Francophonies have become the national benchmark for Francophone creation in France. Today, according to you, there is a danger that the Francophonies will lose their headquarters in Limoges, the former Marceau barracks. Does this mean that there is even a risk that this national reference pole is no longer based in Limoges? ?
We are three centers of national reference for the Francophonie: the Cité internationale des arts in Paris, the Chartreuse de Villeneuve-lès-Avignon and us. But we are the only French-speaking creative center. It’s great that there is this pole of creation, but right now our name is bigger than what we actually have. We are a pole without a place. We have no place of work, apart from offices for the administration that the city of Limoges puts at our disposal. But we do not have a place for the work of artists, for research or creation residencies.
Fortunately, we work with colleagues who share their spaces with us during the time of the festival and I thank them. Unfortunately, the former Marceau barracks, which has hosted the festival’s headquarters since I was appointed to the management in 2019, is a place that does not really belong to us. The city does not guarantee us this place. Every year, we are expected to be told: ” exceptionally, you will have the barracks, but do not count on it next year. Can a theater festival of this magnitude, the only one in the world devoted exclusively to French-speaking creation, be allowed to survive and work like that every year? So, yes, we are in danger.
When I think about it today, I say: what place do we really give to Francophone creation? What place do we give to this French-speaking thought which cannot enrich our life and our daily life? If that disappears one day, if we do not develop it, we will find ourselves in a kind of consanguinity at the level of creation, in a risk of impoverishment and perhaps even death. It’s a cry. It is in our interest to think about what we really want for francophone creation in France. What resources are we prepared to make available for this French-speaking creation?
► The Zebra Stripes of Autumn 2021 des Francophonies, from writing to the stage, from September 22 to October 2, in Limoges, France.