Journalist Ulrich Müller Reports on ID: Babylon Festival

ID: Babylon Festival, Clermont-Ferrand: 4 – 6 April 2019

We were privileged to have Ulrich join us for the whole festival in France earlier this year. He wrote a shorter piece on the festival that ran in German press but also gave us his perspective on the full festival which we wanted to share with you. Here’s his account.

4 April, 2019

“Das junge Kleinod” has arrived, and it’s definitely France. “Bonne journée, Madame. Merci, monsieur.” The ladies are wearing their sunglasses in their hair at temperatures just above freezing, filled baguettes are waiting in the window. The tables are already set in front of the bistros: Plat du jour in coat and scarf. Bustling life in Clermont-Ferrand, narrow alleys and wide squares, small shops and modern shopping arcades. The black cathedral dominates the city, a soldier patrols with a machine gun in the crook of its arm, snow-capped volcanic peaks can be seen in the background. Pigeons, quails and foie gras are on offer in the market hall, the fish counter in the supermarket is fantastic.

The first event sees us gather in the late afternoon at a reception in town hall as we walk there we discover that zebra crossings are not necessarily safe and red pedestrian lights, more like recommendations. The strains of the journey are still in the bones of all participants of the European theatre project “ID: Babylon”, but the elegant reception hall in the town hall knows how to impress with stucco, busts and chandeliers. Madame Isabelle Lavest, who is coordinating Clermont-Ferrand’s application for the European Capital of Culture 2028, welcomes the guests from Slovenia and Italy, England, Germany and France. Jean-Claude Gal, director of the Théatre du Pélican, is particularly pleased to host the weekends festival, which marks the first large international gathering of the project.

5 April 2019

The next day is dedicated to theatre, after rehearsals in the morning the first three performances follow in the afternoon. Just before 2pm the nerves of the young performers are palpable. For the German young people at least, performing in a modern and well attended theatre with over 200 seats is not commonplace. The performances start with Jean-Claude Gal’s production Paths of Rain, a dialogue by and with young migrants. Eight young actors and two professionals try to break out of isolation and emphasise the commonality of their stories: performed in French with English subtitles and touching moments. The Slovenian group from Nova Gorica, on the other hand, uses the means of comedy to reflect the bizarre fear of Muslims, which does not yet exist in the country. In Won’t Curdle With Us, elements of tabloid hysteria and farce are performed by very professional actors to a very enthusiastic audience.

Between the two performances, which have been prepared over a long period of time, stands the play by the young German group, It was/n’t, which was created in two workshops and has found its place in this theatre hall. The ensemble – Omid Daoud, Oria Daoud, Viyana Dimen, Vincent Lenkeit and Jule Viebrock – are in top form. The audience reacts positively from the very beginning, the mixture between rather entertaining and thought-provoking elements fits perfectly. Juliane Lenssen’s production remains close to the themes of the project with the story of the Tower of Babel and quotations from interviews with young people. It’s told with a variety of theatre techniques and if there were grades, it would be a smooth “one” here – the highest grade in the German school system.

The German play is described as “very cool. Very funny and very touching” afterwards during the rather formal group discussion. With the restrictions of the microphones and the ordered translators, what had long since begun unofficially and casually among the young people outside in the courtyard seems somewhat stiff. French and Italian, Slovenian and German, English and Arabic – for the young people the change between the languages is no problem at all. One could quote from the German performance “to all parents: trust your children, trust in us and always say: you can do it”.

6 April, 2019

The next morning, a thematically guided tour of the city is on the programme. In the afternoon, the day of the “European flag” continues with a well-organised “Café Citoyen”, which is also interesting for the young people, and a live broadcast on two radio stations, which is part of the application for the European Capital of Culture. In between a workshop with actress Jessy Khalil – the German young people take part always and everywhere in all the activities.

The evening brings the rest of the performances: The Glej Theatre from Ljubljana is leaving migration and growing nationalism out of the equation in its Café Europe and is reflecting on the young people in the group’s wishes and sensitivities with both absurdity and emotion. Without words, but with good ideas and multimedia, the young Italian group of delleAli teatro, explore the subject of flight with lo qui, while the British group from the Albany focus entirely on its text. The London Show shows in concentrated reduction what black skin means in the British capital. The strongest effect is produced by the empty chair of a missing actor in the spotlight: “You can take away our freedom, but not our voice”, Tendayi Mutongerwa, who couldn’t travel to France due to visa problems, is heard as a recorded voice.

Things wrap up with a lot of respect and applause, a lively exchange and of course a party: “It’s nice to hear people talking about the same thing from different perspectives”, says Englishman Peter Johnson and this view has the full approval of the audience. Thanks to the organisers, “ID: Babylon” is definitely a success. In Clermont-Ferrand, young people from five countries are moving closer together without any reservations.

Ulrich Müller, Journalist, Nordsee-Zeitung

All images by Finigan Rasch

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