The day before the launch of the most famous theater festival in the world, the traditional parade was also back on Wednesday, for the first time since 2019.

“This is our first Avignon, we are very happy. We took advantage of the confinement to stage our show!”, rejoices Christophe Gillis, musician and director who came from Belgium to present “Mozart versus Mozart”, a show by “musical humor” with members of his family.

The Covid? “We are not going to spoil the festival, we need to be on stage and we are all going to be very careful,” adds the artist, dressed in period costume during the parade.

In costumes and to the sound of drums, a compact crowd of artists crossed the streets of the “City of the Popes”, where many festival-goers were already there.

“We have the impression that we are returning a little to normal, we hope that it will be the Avignon of the return”, affirms Olivier Schmidt, member of the troop “Les Joyeux de la Couronne”, which presents “A l’ shadow of Oz”, a musical show on the journey of Judy Garland.

It is one of the 1,500 shows of the “off”, the largest live performance “market” in France which takes place in parallel with the official festival and which has returned to its plethoric offer from before the pandemic. Added to this is the opening of a new room, “La Scala Provence”.

On the side of the Festival d’Avignon, more international and more specialized than the “off”, we want to be reassuring about health measures, while calling for vigilance.

“The (current) contagiousness is such that, in our teams, we have made it compulsory to wear a mask because we cannot afford to have contaminations”, told AFP Paul Rondin, delegate director of the Festival.

“There will be hundreds of thousands of people in Avignon for 20 days and we don’t want anxiety-provoking measures but we say to people: Come to the festival trying to put on the mask in the halls”, he adds. Testing and vaccination centers will be set up in the city.

– A 13-hour epic –

The 2022 edition will also be the last for Olivier Py, at the head of the Festival for nine years, and who will be succeeded by the Portuguese Tiago Rodrigues.

Since 2013, he has invited artists from different backgrounds, with an emphasis on the political side of theater, in the broad sense of the term.

Artists like Kirill Serebrennikov, whom he is inviting for the fourth time, in special circumstances: although the idea was born before the war in Ukraine, the Russian filmmaker and director, in exile in Europe since the spring, will Thursday the opening with “The Black Monk” by Chekhov in the Court of Honor of the Palace of the Popes, emblematic place of the festival. Serebrennikov had recently made a remarkable appearance — and contested by Ukrainians — at the Cannes Film Festival, where he presented his film “Tchaikovsky’s Wife”.

As a sign of solidarity with Ukraine, Olivier Py will perform, as a farewell, with the Dakh Daughters, a punk group from kyiv, in his show “Miss Knife”.

The festival also gives pride of place this year to the Middle East, with the Iranian Amir Reza Koohestani, another regular, Arab poetesses and Lebanese artists.

“Everyone can find an experience to live, whether it’s with Serebrennikov, (the non-binary artist) Kae Tempest, the Red Riding Hood (by the Das Plateau collective), or Arab poetesses”, indicates Mr. Rondin.

And for lovers of river shows — a tradition of the festival — playwright Simon Falguières offers “Le Nid de Cendres”, a 13-hour epic. With four intermissions and two breaks.