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News, 7-8: Grievances
Artists' Strike Cancels Avignon Opening
"It is an act of life
to say no to the dictatorship of the divertissement."
-- Choreographer Regine
Chopinot, Liberation, July 8
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2003 The Dance Insider
PARIS -- Unable to reach
agreement with government negotiators over the weekend on what it
considers unacceptable changes in France's unique unemployment plan
for freelance performing artists and technicians, members of the
leading union representing the Intermittents du Spectacle voted
Monday to strike today's opening of the Avignon Festival, the country's
largest, forcing the festival to cancel opening day performances.
"Today a general strike
was approved," a festival spokesman told the Dance Insider this
morning, "therefore no performances, press conferences, or photo
calls will take place." Festival director Bernard Faivre d'Arcier
would have no comment, the spokesman added.
The Avignon Off festival,
scheduled to start tomorrow in an edition that this year expects
600 companies, will likely follow suit. "If the 'in' is cancelled,
we will not play either," Gerard Gelas, director of the Theatre
du Chene noir, one of the Off presenters, told Le Monde in today's
The cancellation comes
a week after the Montpellier Dance Festival, faced with the threat
of daily strikes, cancelled its summer season after just one day
of performances. Despite threats of a "long hot summer" of actions
by the CGT, the union representing most of the Intermittents du
Spectacle or freelance performing artists and technicians, signs
last week were that Avignon would avoid a similar fate. After Faivre
d'Arcier interceded last week with Culture Minister Jean-Jacques
Aillagon, the Intermittents in Avignon agreed to put off a strike
until sets for this edition's productions could be unloaded.
reported in the Dance Insider July 1, the CGT has rejected
a deal signed with the government by three smaller unions last month
that would grant Intermittent technicians eight months of unemployment
compensation for working 507 hours over the previous ten months,
and artists eight months' compensation for logging 507 hours over
10 and a half months. Under the present regime, the Intermittents
have 12 months in which to log 507 hours, which in turn qualifies
them for 12 months of unemployment. According to the CGT, the change
could deprive up to 30,000 of the 100,000 who now qualify of benefits.
In addition to Montpellier
and Avignon, performances in Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, Paris,
and in several festivals throughout France have been cancelled.
Paris's popular free outdoor film festival at the parc La Villette,
which was supposed to open tomorrow, has cancelled its first week
of films; in the Loire-Atlantic region, even a festival of Jacques
Tati films was annulled.
Besides the drastic
consequences for the local economies across France, opponents of
the strike call have argued that the artists' actions are suicidal.
Speaking in today's Paris daily Liberation, veteran choreographer
Regine Chopinot countered, "It is an act of life to say no to the
dictatorship of the divertissement." Also in Liberation, a weary-sounding
Boris Charmatz explained that in pressing the Intermittents' case
to the government, "We have spoken, we have written, and we have
not been listened to. I repeat that the current system permits all
artists to choose their projects." Of those who spoke before Monday's
strike vote in Avignon, the paper reported, only Bartabas took the
platform in opposition, calling those who were "pro-annulation"
of the festival "cons," as opposed to "pros."
But Stanislas Nordey,
a theater director, pointed out, also in Liberation, "The avenue
of artists is just as important to save as that we save this edition
of Avignon. I pose an act of resistance today so that tomorrow the
spectacle vivant (live performance) can exist, here and elsewhere."
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