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Avignon theatre festival starts amid elitism row

media Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterrand leapt to the Avignon festival's defence AFP/Aurore Marechal

This year’s Avignon theatre festival started Wednesday with a well-known actor accusing its organisers of being a snobbish cult, a charge indignantly rejected by organisers, who have been backed by Culture Minister François Mitterrand.

Although the Festival d’Avignon 2011 opens with a dance piece performed by children from one of the city’s disadvantaged areas, it has been accused of elitism by Fabrice Luchini.

Accusing the festival of turning its back on the great authors, Luchini told Monday’s Le Figaro newspaper that it gives the impression of having been taken over by a cult.

Luchini is a household name in France, having played French theatrical giant Pierre-Augustin de Beaumarchais, Molière’s Monsieur Jourdain and Italian libertine Giacamo Casanova among a string of screen and stage roles which have seen him judged best French actor seven times.

Festival co-director Vincent Baudriller hit back with a claim that the festival’s principal role is as a forum for artists to present “new aesthetic forms”.

And Culture Minister François Mitterrand backed him up on France Inter radio.

Dossier: Festival d'Avignon 2011

“You only have to go to Avignon to see that it is not a cult and it is not snobbish,” he said.

The playful tone of Wednesday afternoon’s Petit projet de la matière (A small project on matter), peformed by six children aged between six and 11 years old soon darkened, however.

Wednesday evening’s offering was Patrick Pineau’s Le Suicidé (The Suicide).

Brent Gregston is reporting from the festival for RFI.

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