Kirill Serebrennikov, the shadows of a Russian designer in full light

Mid-July 2019. The management of the Festival d’Avignon receives a report from the Vaucluse prefecture: an important person is expected in an outlying room, about ten kilometers from the ramparts, in the small town of Vedène. To tell the truth, all the festival-goers flock there. We play it Outside, portrait of photographer Ren Hang, Chinese dissident who committed suicide in 2017. It is a creation of Kirill Serebrennikov, the Russian director whose name, in Avignon, is on everyone’s lips.

At the bottom of the curtain, the ” Personality “ gets up “with a very curious movement”, says Paul Rondin, the festival’s delegate director. It is Roman Abramovich, accompanied by his ex-wife, Dasha Zhukova, who takes some photos. The most famous and secretive of the oligarchs, reputedly close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, partly financed Outside, through a friend’s foundation. “They look at the room to check that the show is a success, go to greet the artists in their dressing rooms, then leave”, describes Paul Rondin.

Applauded, the director is absent. Kirill Serebrennikov has just spent twenty months cloistered in his Moscow apartment. His house arrest was lifted in April 2019, but at the time he still could not leave Russia. Since summer 2017, he is accused of embezzling 129 million rubles (1.65 million euros) in public subsidies as part of a theatrical project, between 2011 and 2014. In the opinion of observers, this is a pretext to arrest a frowned upon creator in the Kremlin.

Mobilized by the German director Thomas Ostermeierrenowned artists have come to his aid, from Cate Blanchett a Isabelle Huppert. Alas, their campaign may not have bent the judges, who are demanding that Serebrennikov reimburse his debt » before giving him back his full freedom of movement. “I wish I could help you, but justice in Russia is independent,” then likes to repeat Vladimir Putin with chilling irony. “Each time the Minister of Culture at the time, Françoise Nyssen, mentioned Kirill’s situation with her Russian counterpart, Vladimir Medinski, he diverted the conversation to marquetry or furniture”, remembers Paul Rondin.

A complex personality

Three years later Outside, twist: authorized to leave the country at the end of March, a few weeks after the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, Kirill Serebrennikov will indeed be present this summer in Avignon. For his fourth participation, he will open the festival with The Black Monk, according to Chekhov, in the Cour d’honneur of the Palace of the Popes. The eight performances, from July 7 to 15, are sold out. Many of the 16,000 ticket holders are happy to applaud “Putin’s number one cultural opponent”, as the European media are accustomed to designate him, an artist prized by Moscow youth for his corrosive pieces, an outspoken support for the LGBT cause in a country that punishes “homosexual propaganda”.

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