Propagations in Marseille: the beauty of the gesture

Concerts 18.05.2022

Christian Sebille, director of the Gmem (Centre national de création musicale de Marseille), has designed this second edition of the Propagations festival under the sign of the crossing of the arts and hybridity, betting on the diversity of the proposals (concerts but also installations) and the presence of the young generation. The last two shows of the festival, given at the Friche La Belle de Mai, a rich space dedicated to creation where the Gmem has taken up residence, are a response to this.

Moving voices

Taking over the large stage, Reaching Out (Moving Voices), a sung, performed and danced show, is a collective work, conceived in its entirety by the Czech composer Ondřej Adámek and his partner and choreographer Éric Oberdorff; Reaching out is a project imbued with spirituality, an initiatory trajectory through which the human being pursues his or her quest for meaning and identity. Between Adámek's two pieces, placed at the beginning and end of the tour, are premieres by the young Japanese Rino Murakami (Salmon crossing) and the Czech compatriot Martin Smolka(Stretto). Although collective work is still quite rare, it is tending to spread among the new generation of creators.

The performance begins in silence, leaving the participants from the audience - six singers, two percussionists and two dancers - to put themselves in a playful situation: they take off their shoes and place a Buddha on the edge of the stage: a sort of ceremony that immediately establishes the ritual dimension, which is underlined by a hand gesture made by all the performers.

Adámek'sKnock Earth Stone Dust, which conducts in the court and sometimes mingles with the collective, brings into play the stone, sonorous, precious, but also the one that is thrown and kills: "I received a stone in the head", we read in the five poems in English by the Icelandic author Sjón that the composer has chosen. The clashing stones, the words pulsating through the singers and the dancers' bodies are all sources of energy that are exploited and amplified by the percussion and its plethora of instruments. Adámek knows how to reveal the sound quality of the word and its potential to become music without ever abandoning the semantic and narrative value of the text: the allusion to the Passion of Christ ("let him who has never sinned among you cast the first stone upon her...") features the evangelist (solo female voice) and the crowd choir in a particularly intense passage. The fluidity is total between the three instances, instrumental, vocal and gestural, and the synergy exemplary within a writing that links movement and emotion(Moving voices).

Another struggle, as playful as it is tragic, takes place in Salmon crossing, as chum salmon (in Washington State) cross the road during floods to return to their home river. "Many salmon fail to find their way back to the river and die," explains composer Rino Murakami in her note of intent. The sounds of mouths, hissing, panting and the undulation of a metal plate evoke the aquatic environment and the fish in the effort, while a Japanese text (Salmon Song) translated into English serves as a dramaturgical framework for this short piece, which is spoken as much as sung, acted as much as danced, and displays a more theatrical dimension.

Evening prayer
The crotales played by the conductor make the transition. The action comes to a standstill, as do the percussion instruments, except for the two vibraphones installed at the front of the stage, for a moment of prayer and meditative listening to which Martin Smolka invites us in Stretto. The Czech composer sets to music an old Latin spiritual text revolving around the idea of divine light. It is embodied in the aerial voice of Steve Zheng singing a hymn to the Virgin under the resonance of vibraphone blades rubbed by the bows; the litanies that follow are almost a cappella, the words repeated at different speeds by the six voices forming fragile micropolyphonic textures with varied dynamics: "mantras that venerate the Blessed Virgin to the point of trance", says the composer.

Gute Nacht
Energy returns in full force with the air pumps that Adámek puts in the hands of the singers and dancers in the last piece Schlafen gut. Warm , which he directs facing the audience and at the back of the stage. The German language comes from letters written by his grandfather, who was smuggled out of the Theresienstadt concentration camp, and his great-grandmother, who died in Auschwitz: here, humour takes the edge off pathos, as Adámek stages both the vital breath ('we must always be healthy', writes the grandfather) and the train journey to the concentration camp: A journey to the end of the night and to the last breath, which the voices and bodies in movement evoke with tremendous commitment: "The boundaries between forms of vocal expression are becoming increasingly blurred, as are the functions of singers, instrumentalists, dancers and the conductor," Adámek emphasises, pointing to the hybridity of genres and the "outstretched hand" between forms of expression and beings that motivate each new creation by this composer, who radiates humanity.

"Inhabiting the ruin" with Florentin Ginot

The voice is not sung in Dead trees give no shelter but spoken, and with a singular grain, that of Frédéric Stochl, playing the role of Tiresias, the blind diviner of Thebes with wrinkled teats, it is added with humor. The man removes one by one his black clothes that he had superimposed and abandons them on the ground, marking their trace with a white signal. On the music side, Florentin Ginot, the artist behind the project, is in the garden with his amplified double bass, giving us the opportunity to hear another grain, refined by the bow and processed by the electronic device under the control of Martin Antiphon at the projection console. The dark, fleshy and richly granulated textures come from the analog machines (ring modulator, filters, theremin, Buchla modular synthesizer, etc.) installed in the courtyard, those of Helge Sten, a figure of the Norwegian "dark ambient", whose sound rises in power to the limits of the audible: the music is to be listened to with the body, incandescent and roaring when it breaks in waves in a sequence where the double bass leads with it an unfair fight. In the imposing structure in quarter sphere implanted in the center of the stage evolve the bodies of the three dancers, Soa Ratsifandrihana, to whom we owe the choreography, Julie Richalet and Germain Zambi, great specialist of the Krump, this urban dance aiming at exalting the life and all its enjoyment that he gives to see, with his partners, in an electrifying trio. A first "short-circuit" (there will be two) dismantles the structure and generates, under the lights of Marie-Hélène Pinon, superb images haunted by the ghostly presence of the dancers/acrobats on the heights.

For it is a question of erosion in this multi-faceted proposal, showing bodies that are stripped bare, matter that is altered and movements that bend - the very beautiful Pietà scene underlines the plasticity of this. Florentin Ginot's double bass (viola da gamba style) quotes Henry Purcell in a lamento evolving on his obstinate chromatic bass(ground). Frédéric Stochl, alias Tiresias, returns to the stage to speak extracts from T.S. Eliot's long poem, the Wast Land , which projects images of drought - 'the rocky mountain without water' - and the actor even sketches a few dance steps accompanied by the double bass.

Imagination is at work in a show that captures both the eye and the ear, tests the senses and raises questions through a strong gesture and a high quality production by artists - performer, composer, dancer and actor - whose talent commands admiration.

Michèle Tosi

Propagations Festival, Marseille
14-05-2022: Friche La Belle de Mai, large stage: Reaching Out (Moving Voices), for voices, percussion and dancers; Ondřej Adámek (b. 1979): Knock Earth Stone Dust; Schlafen gut. Warm; Rino Murakami (born 1996): Salmon crossing; Martin Smolka (born 1959): Stretto. Ensemble N.E.V.N., Compagnie Humaine; Éric Oberdorff, choreographer.
Next performance on 15 September at the Venice Music Biennale

15-05-2022: Friche La Belle de Mai, small stage: Dead trees give no shelter Florentin Ginot, artistic director and double bass; Helge Sten, musical composition; Soa Ratsifandrihana, choreography and dance; Michael Bölter, dramaturgical advisor; Olivier Defrocourt, stage design; Marie-Hélène Pinon, lighting; Martin Antiphon, sound director. Julie Richalet, Germain Zambi, dancers; Frédéric Stochl, actor.

Photos © Pierre Gondard


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