Developing your roots with Sarah Brabo-Durand

Portraits 29.08.2023

Sarah lives on the outskirts of Strasbourg, near a park. We meet on the mound bordering the house where she lives. A flock of dandelions emerges from the warming earth. Sarah is planning a trip. Reorganizing her professional life to navigate between two continents. Talks about distances, planting and moving. The journeys that have taken her from operatic voice to the many different forms of creative music. 

The interview took place on April 6, 2022, in Strasbourg, at her home. The interview and video portrait of Sarah Brabo-Durand is the second to have been recorded. The fourth to be edited. It is part of a series of 12. Sarah Brabo-Durand is a vocal perfomer and co-director of the AxisModula ensemble. Shots in the film alternate between her portrait and her hands busy in the earth. Between the question of how to practice opera singing and the search for a repositioning in the service of a collective creation project.


1. What event, situation or encounter has helped you feel legitimate in your practice? To gain the self-confidence you express so strongly?

Some people...

Starting with the people, many of whom helped me build this confidence. I was lucky enough to come from a very supportive family background. In general, I have good intuitions and I know how to surround myself with people who can support me. Of course, there were others who didn't support me, including in teaching. However, most of my teachers have been very supportive. Yet, despite all the confidence, despite all the wonderful feedback I received as a student, the doubt was still there and extremely present.


Not least because I felt a lot of contradictions between what I wanted to be and do in my practice, and what I was actually doing. We talked about the weight of the instrument's history, and I could see myself having singer's reflexes and clichéd gestures that made me despair.
The trigger came in Brazil during a show with my husband, Ronan Gil, with whom I co-founded the duo Atomos. It was the first time we'd worked together, and we only had three weeks to create the show and put together the repertoire. It's one thing to know someone personally, and quite another to know them on stage! It was intense! A Brazilian friend, Juliana Notari, who was preparing the staging, asked me to do certain simple actions that I was incapable of even though I understood them. Crossing the stage, for example, took on convoluted proportions with big, romantic movements!
It was one of the hardest performances of my life. Then we had a long talk and she looked me straight in the eye and said: "But Sarah, it's normal, you're vain, and we're all vain, but you're very vain! "At the time, it was extremely violent and I was furious.
It took me six months to work my way through this idea of "beauty" that we're supposed to project, this romantic perfection... And after six months of reflection, I cut my hair and that was a liberation! I freed myself from that big romantic soprano hair. And beyond the image of the singer, of this construction of the feminine imagination.

A conservatory on a human scale...

My initial training was at a small conservatory in Brest, where I quickly gained a lot of autonomy, particularly in the singing department, thanks to my choir director at the time, Cécile Le Métayer. My first singing teacher, Geneviève Page, was also very supportive. She was extremely sunny and open-minded, and used to say to me: "If you want to do something, just go ahead and do it! You want to do that project, you want to work on that piece, work on it!" She was always guiding me, in an extremely fine-tuned, extremely pointed way.

I wanted to do a recital on women of character in opera, a show on Disney hits with lots of singers, and that was it! Everything was open, and as it was a conservatory on a human scale, it was possible. But it was more difficult when I arrived in Strasbourg, where I found myself in a very big machine, very organized, very focused. It was hard to understand this very segmented, less direct, less "human" side of things. For several years, this forced me to confront the fact that this field of possibilities was not automatic. It's something that has to be created. And how do you create it?

The desire to explore...

Ten years ago, we were very much multi-hatted! I was a sound engineer and a singer. But to be a sound engineer, you had to work nights. And to be a singer, you had to sleep! I found the solution I was looking for when I left the Conservatoire. I took, and passed, the competitive examinations for higher education in France and Germany. Was this really the path I wanted to follow? The advantage was the network on which to build professionally, the disadvantage was not doing what I wanted to do artistically, but I knew exactly what I wanted to explore. I had to choose between these frameworks or create my own structure. This was the choice I made with Nina Maghsoodloo, my colleague at the head of the AxisModula company. We formed this company as a space for exploration. 

2. What advice would you give to a young woman getting involved in creative music?

I have several pieces of advice to give that I wish I'd received when I started out, especially when I started out of the box, such as to only listen to constructive criticism.
As women, we are often reminded of our limits, our obligations, our weaknesses. We are much less often reminded of our abilities and what the future can bring. Believing is what's important.
When you get into a field like design, where any creative approach is right if it's coherent, if it's felt, nobody has the right to say that what you're doing isn't good. We can be guided. We can be given advice. But you have to be careful not to let yourself be limited by others, not to accept that you always have to choose, that you have to be discreet, that you have to be gentle as a creator. It's not because you're a woman that this should determine the way you create.
I would advise young designers to be themselves, entirely, by assuming their right to fallibility. You can't build yourself up without making mistakes. If you make mistakes, you can develop your roots, put down roots and grow! This is crucial. Just as crucial as people!

We have the right to embark on big projects and fail. Keep trying, until you feel that something resonates with you inside. And then, never let go. If only as creative women we didn't have to wonder about the consequences of getting it wrong. It's an injustice that hurt me so much, for so long. 

Interview by Céline Pierre on April 06, 2022 in Strasbourg.

Photos © Céline Pierre


buy twitter accounts