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performance

the Festival d’Avignon

IT WAS ONLY DURING the brief rendition of a 1977 performance piece by Marina Abramović, in which five couples sat and slapped each other’s faces faster and harder over several minutes, that I began to understand the state of contemporary theater.

I was in Avignon for the annual theater festival, which has been held there each summer since 1947 and remains ground zero for the European theater world. The identity crisis under which theater strains, or so its critics say, was in ample evidence. Audiences booed, cursed, and awarded rapturous ovations for the twenty-three works presented, with opinions as diverse as the theatrical styles on view. And where breadth was a point of pride for festival directors Hortense Archambault and Vincent Baudriller—they extolled that the works attested to “the possibility of finding something that could ally with the universal or the sacred to, perhaps,

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