(Avignon, France) Challenge raised for Émilie Monnet at the prestigious Avignon Festival! The Quebec artist of Anishinaabe origin received a warm welcome at the premiere of her play Marguerite: le feu, presented Friday at the Benoit-XII Theater.
The performance ended without a standing ovation, but to loud applause from the packed room. In the conversations leaving the theater, we heard several of the 430 spectators extolling the importance of the subject, even if some seemed confused by the performative form of the show, which does not follow a linear narrative framework.
The main interested party, for her part, came out of the spotlight with a sigh of relief. “It’s done, the ice is broken, the premiere is over. Tiego Rodrigues [president of the Avignon Festival] was there and he told me he was happy to welcome us! »
Magda Bizarro, wife and collaborator of Tiego Rodrigues, was also present at the premiere. “I found the room magnificent,” she told La Presse. Magda Bizarro played a major role in bringing Émilie Monnet to Avignon. She was the one who discovered the Quebecer during a visit to the FTA in Montreal in 2022. “It was important for me to invite Émilie, because she talks about a question that is not very present in theaters in France, or the question of colonization in New France and its injustices. »
Already before the premiere, the play Marguerite: le feu enjoyed a great burst of enthusiasm from the French press and festival-goers. During the days leading up to the performance, the Quebecer multiplied the interviews: Télérama, France 2, Les Inrocks, RFI, France Culture. She was even the only artist chosen to appear on the cover of the specialized newspaper La Terrasse, a reference title for the living arts in France distributed free of charge to the four corners of Avignon. A feat when you know that the historical festival of Avignon (also called the IN) hosts this year 44 shows (including that of Émilie Monnet) and that the parallel festival (the OFF) presents 1500!
Intrigued by the fate of Marguerite Duplessis, an Aboriginal slave fighting for her emancipation in the Montreal of 1740, festival-goers bought tickets in large numbers. Even before the echoes of the premiere resonated, the five performances were sold out.
“It’s very positive. I feel there is a real interest in continuing the conversation about our history and our reality,” Émilie Monnet explained to us in a shady café in the heart of the Petit Palais museum on the eve of the premiere.
For the Aboriginal artist, the pride is great to come and tell the story of Marguerite Duplessis on French soil.
“It seems like there is a gap that has been created, a bond that has become disconnected, as if this story was external to them and only concerned Quebec,” she adds.
Moreover, in the program of the show, the Festival presents Marguerite as “the first indigenous woman to start a lawsuit against the Quebec government to have her nationality recognized and to claim her freedom”. But in 1740, the year of the trial, Quebec was still and always part of New France. It is therefore no coincidence that all the legal requests made by Marguerite are addressed to the King of France!
A fact that has not escaped the interpreters, including Tatiana Zinga Botao. The latter insists: “The story of Marguerite is also the story of the French. It was they and the English who colonized America! I am from the Congo, a country colonized [by Belgium], and I am very proud to carry the word of an enslaved person on the territory of those who enslaved him, precisely. »
For Émilie Monnet, the importance of performing her piece on French soil goes well beyond these historical considerations. “Many people in France are not aware of the indigenous reality. They have a stereotypical view of our culture. This visit to Avignon allows me to show how vibrant we are in today’s world, to prove that our reality is not frozen in the past.
“I am proud to think of what this can open up for the future, for the generations of Indigenous artists that will follow. »
Émilie Monnet has chosen to present a completely revamped show in Avignon since her move to Espace Go in the spring of 2022. This choral piece has gone from three to four voices and the cast has been greatly changed with the arrival of actresses Anna Beaupré Moulounda and Tatiana Zinga Botao as well as Wendat dancer Catherine Dagenais-Savard. The latter adds a very moving dance dimension to the subject, in particular with a flamboyant shawl dance. Choreographer Mélanie Demers also came to add a bit of her color to the staging, alongside Angélique Willkie.
“There have been a lot of changes. As the festival invitation arrived just before Christmas, everything had to be put together in no time. Everything was done in a hurry. But we don’t say no in Avignon! »
Dancer Catherine Dagenais-Savard had the same thought when Émilie Monnet called her to offer to be part of the adventure. “I had knee surgery and until four months ago I couldn’t dance. But I wanted so much to be part of this project! When I saw the play at Espace Go, I was very challenged by the text, the story. I said to my father, who was with me: this is the kind of show I want to do! »
During this 77th Festival d’Avignon, Émilie Monnet will participate in several events, including a reading of her play Okinum and a conference of authors. She will also multiply the meetings with the broadcasters present, meetings that could open new doors for Marguerite: fire and its creator.
“I know that Avignon will represent an important step in my career. I am an autodidact; I started doing theater just 10 years ago. I don’t have the experience of great directors. Why am I the one who ends up in Avignon? It was Marguerite who started all this! And it’s built on those who have been there before me. »
On the day of the premiere, in the courtyard of the Saint-Louis cloister, under a plane tree which must have been a hundred years old, it was so majestic, Émilie Monnet took part in a Café des Idées where she answered questions from the host Olivia Gesbert. When the latter asked her what theater could add to Marguerite’s story, the answer was quick: “The theater can soothe the memory of ancestors and offer healing. »
In the middle of the old stones “carrying memories”, the Quebec artist will also have succeeded in touching the hearts of the spectators and in passing to open some consciences on a reality hidden by the history books, that of slavery in New France. As Magda Bizarro said so well: “After seeing this spectacle, the French are going to have to rethink their history…”
The Festival d’Avignon is considered the most important festival dedicated to the performing arts on the planet.
Founded in 1947 by Jean Vilar, the Festival has welcomed over the years great names in theater and then in dance, such as Gérard Philippe, Jeanne Moreau, Philippe Noiret and Maurice Béjart.
From July 5 to 22, 44 shows are presented this year in some 40 venues, including the main courtyard of the Palais des Papes.
The OFF Festival, which this year offers more than 1,500 theater, comedy and music shows, was added at the end of the 1960s.