FROM April 24 to June 24, the Festival Croisements 2018 held 68 French cultural events in 30 cities across China. These programs were very popular in China and the festival attracted large audiences.
Mr. Robert Lacombe, Counselor for Cooperation and Cultural Action of French Embassy in China and Director of the French Institute of China, sat down with China Today for an interview. As the organizer of the cultural event, he was very proud of the success of this festival, “By promoting artistic collaborations between institutions and artists from both countries, the festival has achieved its goal. We have a lot of programs that testify to the fertility of these exchanges.”
An exhibition of Le Prix Marcel Duchamp winners’ installation in Beijing in 2017.
The Festival Croisements was created in 2006 after the success of the France-China Culture Year. For 13 years, the cultural festival has evolved along with the relations between the Chinese and French people. According to Mr. Lacombe, in China this evolution has been very fast and important. “There has been a shift in the tastes and artistic demands of the public. That is to say that the Chinese public now requires a greater variety of programs and quality.” He added: “Evolution is not only reflected in better understanding between the Chinese and the French, but also in the exceptional quality of artistic and cultural exchanges.”
A Fabulous Event
In 2018, the festival focused on two themes: the centenary of the death of Claude Debussy and the 50th anniversary of the events of May 1968 in France. For Lacombe, May 1968 marks the end of an era and France’s entry into a new world; this was an event that allowed for the liberation of creative energy and experimentation with new forms of creation.
Among the 68 events held this year, there were three that Lacombe recommended particularly for French and Chinese audiences. The first was the presentation of the Marcel Duchamp Award to the Tsinghua University Art Museum. According to him, this museum is one of the most beautiful museums in Beijing and finds itself in the heart of one of the most prestigious universities in the country. In addition, this exhibit is representative of today’s contemporary art in France and its diversity. Among the award’s recipients was a Chinese artist, Wang Du.
The second event highly recommended by Lacombe was the re-enactment of Le Sacre du Printemps performed originally in Paris in 1913 and choreographed by Nijinski. With the Le Siècles Orchestra playing the music of Stravinsky, the choreography of Dominique Burn revived this ballet of modernity.
The third event was related to May 1968. It invokes the presence of Romain Goupil, a militant of the May 1968 movement, who directed the film Dying at Age Thirty. This is a film that evokes the passion of youth and in which the director tells the tale of the very brief life of one of his militant friends. In his film, the personal story is highly representative of the French history of that time.
Chinese Culture in France
Running parallel to the Festival Croisements, the China Cultural Center organizes annual activities to promote China in France. According to Lacombe, the meeting between artists and people of the two countries allows them to explore paths of creation together.
It affirms that Chinese culture is popular in France. For this reason, this year directors Michel Didym and Yi Liming worked together to create a play based on the novelette Ah Q. Lacombe explained: “Mr. Lu Xun, the author of Ah Q, is widely-read in France, as are many other Chinese authors.” According to him, in France, one can find the most number of translated works by Chinese authors in the world. “This novelette is very popular in France, with its whimsical, original, and comical hero. And I think this staging is a great success.”
However, he believes that there is an imbalance in the diffusion of Chinese arts in France. He said, “I think China is pretty well-represented in the visual arts. Chinese visual arts and artists are well known. Many Chinese artists live and create in France, and other artists who live in China have a presence in French museums. Chinese cinema is also very popular in France. For example, Jia Zhangke just presented a film at the Cannes Film Festival. In music, there are many Chinese performers who are successful in France and who are very appreciated by the French public. But he added, “I think theater, and even more so, dance, are areas where China is under-represented.”
According to Lacombe, to resolve this imbalance, it is necessary to invite French artists, directors or choreographers for example, to collaborate with Chinese ensembles in the performing arts. He explained: “We have an excellent relationship with many companies and many Chinese ensembles, but it would be good to bring them to France and give greater visibility to the Chinese performing arts. If you ask a choreographer to create a dance show in China with a Chinese ballet, he will want the show to be presented in France, which, in my opinion, will promote the spread of Chinese culture in France. “
Cultural Exchanges Stimulate the Economy and Influence Politics
According to Lacombe, culture cannot be separated from the economy. “Culture is part of the economy. French cinema box office grossed US $80 million in 2017. He also gave the example of the establishment of an advanced collaboration between the Pompidou Center and the West Bend Investment Group on the economics of culture. According to him, there is no separation of culture and economy where culture serves only to encourage economic exchanges.
According to Lacombe, China and France — both attach particular importance to history, heritage, and culture as essential features of human identity — have made it a key dimension of their political exchanges. On that he commentated: “We still have a lot to do to ensure that this dimension permeates all of our exchanges. In fact, President Macron set the example during his last trip to China by choosing to give his speech at Daming Palace in Xi’an. During his visit to China in January 2018, French President Emmanuel Macron explained that he wanted to be close to artists and the world of culture in order to underline the crucial role they play in French diplomatic action in China.”