La nef: The grandiose ritual

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This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)

Four years ago, at the invitation of the company BOP (Ballet-Opéra-Pantomime), Cédric Delorme-Bouchard staged the show Le vaisseau-cœur, for the 2019 season opening of Salle Bourgie in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. The production featured pieces by Francis Poulenc and Olivier Messiaen, with 30 choristers, four dancers and the I Musici de Montréal chamber orchestra. Montreal composer Alexis Raynault had created a seven-minute introductory composition for the occasion.

“It was a perfect meeting, an instant coup de foudre—the experiment was so powerful that BOP and I decided immediately to continue our collaboration, wondering about the new territory we would explore,” said Delorme-Bouchard, now preparing for the soon-to-be-premièred La nef. The reflections of the collaborators had led them to Messiaen, but in a completely different register. “We went through his piano works and carefully selected compositions for solo piano or double piano.”

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Four grand pianos

The scores were arranged for four pianos to constitute the soundtrack of the show. “They are adjusted so that we can go through them with a beginning and an end; it’s not a concert, it’s a dramaturgic work.” Delorme-Bouchard wished to introduce music lovers to the territory of dance and theatre, so the staging of the show will be just as important as its acoustic aspect.

After studying the material, the director promptly chose to remodel the Usine C stage. The dancers would move to the very heart of the space, on a large podium, while the four pianos enclosed the stage. The audience, on bifrontal bleachers, will form the last circle. “A spiral of music will sweep throughout the audience; each individual’s experience will be determined by where he or she is sitting,” Delorme-Bouchard explained.

The works are taken from one of the most celebrated suites of Messiaen’s contemporary piano repertoire, Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus, a work for piano in 20 parts (1944) and Visions de l’Amen, a work for two pianos in seven parts (1943). Compositions by BOP’s founding member Alexis Raynault and Sophie Dupuis, an interdisciplinary arts aficionado, complement the performance’s harmonic framework.

La nef is not meant to be a museum piece: “I think it is important, in order to present Messiaen today, in Montreal, to integrate the contribution of new and current composers. Their works were obviously crafted in the very spirit of the French composer,” said Delorme-Bouchard, but “the space, the light and the music of the performance were missing flexibility, colours. Such additions were necessary.”


A panorama of mankind

Messiaen was a devoted Roman Catholic. Maeterlinck, the master of the symbolist movement, author of the play Intérieur, which inspired Delorme-Bouchard’s latest creation at Usine C, was also a true believer. Even if the two works do not belong to the same genre—Intérieur was a theatre act, staged with actors—both artists shared similar values and concerns. “The religious aspect is irrelevant to me,” said Delorme-Bouchard, “but when it comes to life and death, to the relationship to nature, to the subtle portion of the human experience, each creator tries to approach it so that some sublime moments can emerge on the stage, in a grandiose ritual.”

Between the work involving the image and the body and the music, the ensemble of eight performers and four pianists of La nef offers a wide spectrum of practices and ages. Just as birds, insects and minerals were a source of creative contemplation for Messiaen, the show reveals to the director an astonishing panorama of living, organic humanity.

Messiaen’s relation to colour was unique. The composer, organist and professor of analysis and composition even wrote, during a period spanning more than 40 years, an extensive seven-volume Treaty of Rhythm, Colour and Ornithology. “Messiaen spoke about harmony-colour,” said Delorme-Bouchard. “I thus use a video lighting which is designed, written and modulated like a musical score. It doesn’t mean that both scores are travelling in the same way, but they are intricately linked.”

After Lamelles (2018) and Intérieur (2022), La nef will be Delorme-Bouchard’s third creation at Usine C. These projects have different starting points, but they have many similarities; they are part of the same quest and they overlap. The light, the body, the text, the music—it’s a beautiful loop. “La nef is the most ambitious challenge I have undertaken so far; it is an event project of the utmost complexity and there will be only four performances.”

Cédric Delorme-Bouchard and BOP will orchestrate La nef, a ritual for body and light carried by the music of four pianists: Samuel Blanchette-Gagnon, Isabelle David, Mehdi Ghazi and Gaspard Tanguay-Labrosse. Performers interpreting the music include David Albert-Toth, Leslie Baker, Marc Boivin, Mélanie Chouinard, Jennyfer Desbiens, Myriam Foisy, Lucie Grégoire, Emmanuel Proulx.

World première at Usine C in Montreal from May 12 to 17.

This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)


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