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Rodrigo García at the Athens Festival

Eight Theatre Festivals You Shouldn’t Miss This Summer 0

In cooperation with theatre critic Margarita Zieda,

A close-up of the South African artist William Kentridge at the Foreign Affairs festival of performing arts in Berlin; circus on the stage of the Venice Theatre Festival; the centenary of Dada in the programme of Festspiele Zürich; a stage version of the apocalyptic kaleidoscope ‘2666’ at the Avignon Festival and ‘Carnations’ created by the dance legend Pina Bausch in Amsterdam – these are just some of the most visible crests of the waves above the ocean depths of this summer’s theatre festival circuit.


LIFT – the London International Festival of Theatre
1 June – 2 July 2016

En avant, marche! (Flanders, Belgium). NTGent / les ballets C de la B. 16 June - 17 June, 7:30pm at Sadler's Wells

Active since 1981, the London International Festival of Theatre is one of the leading art forums in Europe. Focused on the interactive potential of cultures, LIFT is held as a rendezvous of works of art, a platform for conversations between artists and a celebration of the art of discussion. LIFT calls itself a chameleon capable of transforming from a theatre into a cinema, from an open-air stage into an exhibition hall and from an interactive notice board into an open space of human conversations; the programme includes theatre premieres, films and discussions, involving artists from different continents.

The highlights of the programme:

-       A talk by Peter Brook, the ‘Socrates of the theatre’, on 15 June at the British Library.

-       ‘Phèdre(s)’, the latest project of the Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski and the great French actress Isabelle Huppert; the production, created at the Paris Odéon-Théâtre de l'Europe, explores the myth of Phaedra – the impossible love.

-       ‘En avant, marche!’, the latest work by the Flemish director Alain Platel in which one of the most human 21st-century directors focuses on a brass band.

-       The opening of the festival with a performance of ‘Stella’, a production of one of the most distinctive British directors Neil Bartlett, focusing on one of the most bizarre scandals in the Victorian England. It is based on the life story of the music hall artist Ernest Boulton, whose choice of living and performing as a woman inevitably led to a confrontation with the mores and norms of the time, resulting in the brutal destruction of the artist and the man.


Holland Festival
4 – 26 June 2016

Pina Bausch. ‘Nelken’ (‘Carnations’)

Holland Festival is one of the oldest international theatre and opera festivals in Europe; the secret behind its unique appeal is the superb quality of the programme of concerts, visual art exhibitions and theatre and opera performances. The standards of this year’s festival’s artistic level are set by the works of the Latvian conductor Mariss Jansons, the late German dancer, choreographer and director Pina Bausch and the British avant-garde theatre director Simon McBurney featured in the programme.

Other highlights of the programme:

-       A golden classic: one of the most beautiful 20th-century stage works – Pina Bausch’s opus on love, ‘Nelken’ (‘Carnations’), created back in 1980, in the then industry-dominated West German city of Wuppertal.

-       A new intense audio experience offered by ‘The Encounter’; the author of the production, the British director and actor Simon McBurney invites us to join him on a trip to the Amazon rainforests by putting on headphones and embracing a world of 360-degree aural immersion.

-       ‘Melancholia’, a production by the director Sebstian Nübling focusing on the younger generations which, according to psychological studies, tend to succumb to inexplicable depression; the lethargic and apathetic mega-modern youth is countered with the melancholy that was so popular at the age of Renaissance. Featuring contribution by choreographer Ives Thuwis and an ensemble of baroque music, the result is a work that aims to penetrate the core of our age and dream up a completely new utopia.

-       The latest work of the British director Neil Bartlett, ‘Stella’.


Festspiele Zürich
3 – 26 June 2016

Rich in traditions, the Zürich Festival aims at showcasing the diversity of the city’s cultural wealth, compiling into a single programme the highlights of the season both at home and in Europe – artistically brilliant and stylistically diverse. This year’s programme, however, is special: Switzerland is marking the centenary of Dada; born in Zürich and spread throughout the world, this art movement gave up on trying to make sense of the world on principle. Through the 150 events of its programme – readings, theatre performances, concerts – the Zürich Festival will attempt to show the phenomenon of Dada from different angles and various temporal and geographical perspectives.

Highlights of the programme:

-       Director and actor Herbert Fritsch’s ‘der die mann’, a production staged at the Berlin Volksbühne am Rosa Luxemburg Platz theatre.

-       The great Luxembourgish actor André Jung’s reading ‘JandlJenseitsJelinek’.

-       The festival’s inaugural event, a huge Francis Picabia retrospective at Kunsthaus Zürich. Mounted in conjunction with New York’s MoMA, the exhibition is a rare opportunity to view such a vast body of Picabia’s work on paper, avant-garde magazines and the artist’s theatre and film-related ideas.


The Hellenic Festival (Athens & Epidaurus Festival)
June, July, August 2016

William Shakespeare ‘HAMLET’. Director Oskaras Koršunovas

Over the more than half century of its existence, the Athens Festival has shown the very best of what has been created in contemporary arts: all of the most prominent artists of our time have been represented here with their works. The festival is open to traditional art forms – opera, classical music and ballet are the staples of the programme – and the latest experiments in art alike.

Highlights of the programme:

Works of the Italian metaphysicist Romeo Castellucci; a production of ‘Hamlet’ by the enfant terrible of the 1990s Lithuanian theatre Oskaras Koršunovas; the investigations of the Swiss master of documentary theatre Milo Rau, exploring the contemporary global web of crime and releasing the spectator back into life to view the world through different eyes, as well as the stage works of the international star of the radical branch of Spanish theatre Rodrigo García.


Festival d’Aix-en-Provence
30 June – 20 July 2016

George Frideric Handel ‘Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno. By Krzysztof Warlikowski

This is one of the most beautiful, best quality and most romantic opera festivals in Europe. The performances start at sunset and take place in the open air because, according to those in the know, it never rains in this small French town – well, perhaps a few drops now and then, but only during the day. One of the festival’s scenes has recently moved under a roof: thinking of conditions suited for winter performances, a new theatre building was built. Fans of open-air performances are not exactly thrilled, because enjoying opera under the nocturnal Aix sky is a very special experience.
Great artistic quality at Festival d'Aix-en-Provence is a matter of course, but there is more to it: every year the festival offers performances of both rarely staged and completely new operas.

Highlights of the programme:

-       The British director Katie Mitchell and Finnish conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen’s take on Claude Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande’.

-       A new production of a rarely performed baroque opera, George Frideric Handel’s ‘Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno’ (‘The Triumph of Time and Truth’) staged especially for this year’s festival by Krzysztof Warlikowski, one of the most prominent contemporary Polish directors, with the French conductor Emmanuelle Haïm.

-       The world premiere of ‘Kalîla wa Dimna’ (‘Kalila and Dimna’), an opera by the Palestinian composer Moneim Adwan – a musical story of idealism destroyed by ambition.


The Foreign Affairs International Performing Arts Festival
5 July – 17 July 2016

William Kentridge: More Sweetly Play the Dance, 2015. Video still © courtesy the artist, Marian Goodman Gallery (New York, Paris, London), Goodman Gallery (Johannesburg, Cape Town) and Lia Rumma Gallery (Naples, Milan)

The centrepiece of this year’s programme of the Berlin festival of performing arts is the creative practice of the South African artist William Kentridge. Representing an impressive diversity of areas – drawing, film, animation, film and theatre direction – his works have been on show at exhibition halls in many cities of the world, including three editions of the Kassel documenta and two of the Venice Biennale, as well as at a string of South African and European theatres and opera houses. In 2010, William Kentridge was awarded the Kyoto Prize, sometimes referred to as the Nobel Prize of fine arts.

In July, Berlin will offer an opportunity to experience the universe of William Kentridge’s art – developed from his charcoal drawings, prints and pastels – in a truly grand spectrum, both visiting his ‘No It Is!’ exhibition hosted by the Martin-Gropius-Bau exhibition hall and attending a number of events at the Foreign Affairs Festival. The festival programme includes William Kentridge’s

ciné-concert ‘Paper Music’, the artist’s latest joint project with the South African composer Philip Miller, a fusion of music and animation and featuring a live vocal performance. You can also meet the artist in person, seeing him close up in a two-day marathon event ‘Drawing Lessons’ that will combine a series of autobiographical readings with a parade of works developed in various hybrid genres. The programme also features three theatre productions directed by Kentridge: ‘Refuse the Hour’, ‘Die Winterreise’ and ‘Ubu and the Truth Commission’, multimedia stage works merging fine arts, music, animation, acting, puppets and kinetic sculptures.

Other highlights of the programme:

-       The inaugural night, opening the festival with the Flemish director and choreographer Alain Platel’s latest production, ‘En avant, marche!’

-       ‘Germany Year 2071’, the latest production of the off-Broadway Nature Theatre of Oklahoma company; created in the genre of science fiction, this piece promises a glimpse into the future of Germany.


The Avignon International Theatre Festival
6 – 24 July 2016

‘Prometheus Bound’. © Olivier Py

In July, all roads lead to South of France: featuring a rich international programme and an extensive overview of the latest developments in the French theatre life, the Avignon Festival is one of the artistically diverse European theatre celebrations. It is also one of the oldest and most respected theatre festivals in Europe. Director Olivier Py has shaped this year’s programme with an emphasis on the political importance of the theatre, its active social role in the bruised France of today and the labile global landscape in general. He speaks of architecture of hope, linking it with the festival’s historical venue – Cour du Palais de Papes or the courtyard of the Papal Palace. It is only one of a number of venues in the city; however, it is a special honour to perform there. This year it will fall to the Belgian-born Dutch-based director Ivo van Hove, the leader of the Amsterdam Toneelgroep – one of the first artists who started to look for ways to enrich the European theatre with the potential offered by video. 

Other highlights of the programme:

-       Two productions of ancient tragedies by Olivier Py: ‘Prometheus Bound’ and ‘Aeschylus’ War Plays’.

-       The work by one of the most interesting French contemporary directors, the rising star Julien Gosselin – a stage version of the Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño’s ‘2666’ novel, the 1100 page-strong kaleidoscope of social apocalypse.

-       The latest work by the Spanish performance artist, theatre director and actress Angélica Liddell ‘Qué haré yo con esta espada?’ (‘What Will I Do with this Sword?’).

-       The programme also features the Moscow Gogol Centre production of ‘Dead Souls’ by Kirill Serebrennikov.


Biennale Teatro
26 July – 14 August 2016

Baro d’Evel 

Alongside the Biennale of Architecture, Venice this summer is also hosting a biennial international theatre festival – Biennale Teatro, offering the visitor an overview of the latest developments in the performing arts, traditionally both in theatre and dance. This year the two disciplines are joined by a third one – circus. 

Highlights of the programme:

-       The French circus group Baro d’Evel is bringing dancers, acrobats, horses and parrots to Venice; the evenings will see these artists create a new and very special world, one that is born from surprise.

-       ‘Ethica’, one of the latest productions by Romeo Castellucci, inspired by the writings of the 17th-century Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza.

-       ‘E se elas fossem para Moscou?’, a production by the Brazilian director Christiane Jatahy – a fusion of the stage and screen techniques inspired by Anton Chekhov’s ‘Three Sisters’.

-       ‘The Seagull’, the Lithuanian director Oskaras Koršunovas’ version of the comedy by Anton Chekhov.