NIDA Master of Fine Arts (Design for Performance) students hit the South of France!

26 September 2016

This year’s inaugural MFA (Design for Performance) class trip to Europe was centred on the Avignon Festival in the south of France, and student Ellen Stanistreet shared her experience with us.

After 38 hours in transit to France we were delivered, blinking into the heat of summer in Provence and the prospect of ten days immersed in some of the most influential art practice in the world. Whilst this was the first time a NIDA cohort had attended, the Avignon Festival itself has been stimulating and surprising western Europe for 70 years, and brings a massive influx of cultural tourism to the ancient town.

Built on the banks of the Rhone River, situated about 250km from Nice and the sparkle of the French Riviera, Avignon is an epic contrast from that fast and frivolous world just an hour away. It was for several centuries, the home of the Pope, and the capital of Catholic France. The monolithic central Palace des Papes was built in the 14th Century and remains an impressive and well-loved centrepiece in the romantic, walled Gothic town. Rolling patchwork fields, distant crenelated towers and spreading sunflower fields ring the city and we were lucky enough to see one show set in a countryside quarry. This spectacular setting was illuminated by sunset when we arrived, and the production of Karamazov was impressive in this beautiful natural setting.

Another highlight was seeing Les Damnés, directed by Ivo van Hove, staged in the 600-year-old central courtyard of the Papal Palace. The festival builds a two-thousand seat open-air auditorium into this epic space, and this year it was host to the premier of van Hove’s shocking and revelatory adaptation.

In between shows, we were spoilt for choice on how to fill our time – whether to enjoy the sights of the town and Off Festival which hosts up to 3000 shows in 100 venues around wider Avignon; or to sit in one of the closeted public gardens and catch up on assignments; or to take a trip to the beautiful coastal national parks, the lavender fields or local heritage-listed monuments such as the Roman-built Pont du Gard. Our group of seven managed to fit much of this in, as well as some serious afternoon café-sitting and people watching, and enjoying a nice French vin.

We capped the trip with two days and nights in London, where we saw Robert Lepage’s newest version of Needles and Opium at the Barbican, and the final dress rehearsal of Tim Minchin’s musical adaptation of Groundhog Day – a distinct contrast to the French programs in Avignon.

We wish to sincerely thank the Frederick J. Gibson Bequest which made this extensive trip possible for the first time. The scope and creativity of European theatre practice was inspiring and imposing to behold, and has inspired us all to challenge our preconceptions of our practice here at NIDA for the final student productions of 2016, and beyond.

Funds from The Frederick J Gibson Bequest in memory of Garnet H Carroll OBE generously enable NIDA students and graduates to travel overseas annually for cultural experiences and to pursue study opportunities. NIDA is extremely grateful to the late Frederick (Freddie) J Gibson (1934-2013) for his wonderful generosity in helping to launch the careers of the next generation of Australian directors, writers and designers. If like Gibson you too have a passion and commitment to supporting NIDA and the arts, please click here to learn more about our Bequest program.