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Flash 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 editions.

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.

As 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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