By Robert Drobniuch
I visited the Figura biennial festival in Baden for the first time in 2022. As soon as I got off at the train station in Baden, I noticed posters in the streets about the festival, so I easily found my way to the festival office, where I met a passionate team of people working under the direction of artistic director Eveline Gfeller and production manager Irène Howald.
Before I went to the festival, I read the rich program, which at first glance guaranteed many emotions. Famous artists and theater groups caught my attention, for example: Plexus Polaire Yngvild Aspeli, Florian Feisel, Snuff Puppets. Although I did not know many other creators, the descriptions and photos aroused my interest.
The performances were presented in several places. In addition to the classic Kurtheater Baden hall, where the monumental “Moby Dick” directed by Yngvild Aspeli took place, the performances were presented in very unusual and original venues. I was most impressed by the Teatro Palino space, arranged in the basement of a historic tenement house, with an amphitheater auditorium for 50 seats, with a small stage on the first row, where I watched the “Star Show” of Compagnie Bakélite from France. A small theatrical form played in the convention of the theater of objects by one actor tells us about the pioneers of the cosmos. The witty juggling of Alan Floc’h’s ideas was like engineering straight from Dr. Frankenstein’s office.
On another stage, this time in the post-factory space of Nordportal, I saw two performances. The first from the Czech Republic “Hic Sunt Dracones” by Continuo Theatre and the second from France, “Theatrum Mundi” by Compagnie Hold Up! Both are interesting, with a strong dominant form. In the case of the Czech performance, the actors’ bodies were treated like clay in the hands of a sculptor, while the French play attracted great attention with its Elizabethan costumes in which actress Lucie Cunningham was dressed. Using puppets, hand puppets and objects, Lucie played out seven scenes about birth and death.
Another very interesting place was the “Druckerei” music club, there I saw the play that made the greatest impression on me during the festival, namely “Kaffee mit Zucker?” by Laia RiCa. This is due to the acting, the concept of the play and the emotions flowing from the stage. The performer Laia of South American origin reached for the history of the beginnings of the coffee business in Europe, which became a pretext to recall the fate of South American countries used by wealthy German companies benefiting financially from the transport of coffee to Europe. Coffee becomes the main theme of the play, but also the material that appears on the stage – coffee is spilled on a huge wheel resembling a pan suspended in the middle of the stage.
My particular attention was drawn to the performances of “Envahisseurs” and “Hostile” by Compagnie Bakélite played at the Kulturhaus Royal, a closed historic cinema. The world created by Olivier Rannou, both in the first and second production, was shown with great dramatic precision and masterly acting – it was the essence of the theater of form. Rannou showed two different stories that share a common theme that touches every human being, i.e. the Sisyphean struggle of an individual with the world. In both performances, we witness a carousel of emotions and original ideas, played on the table with the use of miniature dolls and objects, sparkling with wit and drama – thanks to Rannou’s huge eyes and wrinkles, whose mimic play delighted the audience.
Before leaving for Poland, I saw “Avion Papier” by actor and composer Arthur Delaval. To see the performance, you had to enter a caravan painted with hippie patterns. There, the fourteen persons audience seated on chairs could indulge in the artistic atmosphere. Strange objects hung overhead and, on the walls, and Delaval sat in front of the audience, surrounded by various instruments.
Projections in the convention of an animated film were displayed on one of the walls. We saw a moving story of a girl traveling the world, and moving images were accompanied by live sounds. I will remember the whole of this twenty-minute adventure as a journey full of humour and warmth that I would like to relive.
In the program of the festival prepared by Eveline Gfeller, there were many other fascinating titles that many words can be written about. However, I am especially grateful to the organizers for one thing. Eveline and Irène with their team prepared the festival with great care and sensitivity. After more than two years of break caused by the COVID pandemic, they managed to organize a festival of an international scale, which became a meeting place for interesting artists and diverse audiences from around the world. And inspiring performances and talks made Baden a platform for the exchange of experiences and inspiration. I am convinced that my visit to Baden was not the last. I am waiting impatiently for the newsletter with information about the next one.