The role of music in the theatrical arts is usually a secondary one, used to highlight dramatic action or inspire a choraographer’s vision. Music seems mone abstract than words or gestures to most people. With her latest creation, Filature, premiered this month at Usine C, musique actuelle composer, vocalist and improvising saxophonist Joane Hétu sets out to show the theatrical potential of music and how other arts can be put to its service.
During a recent conversation held at the offices of Ambiances Magnétiques, of which she is the label’s chief adminstrator, Hétu explained her vision as being inspired by the art of weaving, once an occupation of hers. “Musique actuelle is a hybrid form, born of mixing disparate things. Weaving has similar principles — the craft involves mixing various threads to create a pattem, a pleasing artistic form.”
In this “Théâtre sonore” of hers, the threads are the instrumental “voices” of the musicians, with counterpoint provided by a pair of dancers, and important visual components including costumes, lighting and video projections. Still, the musicians are at the heart of this project, a point Hétu further elaborates upon. “I have to know who I’m writing for. I’m not just writing for a particular instrument — it starts with a particular musician.” The work is dividad into three acts, each based on a principle of weaving: Act I is titled Chaîne, Act II Trame and Act III Motif, weaving terms that translate as “warp”, “weft” and “weave”. “In the opening act, male musicians are on stage with a male dancer, followed by an all-female cast in Act II and all 10 musicians share the stage in Act III, their lines interweaving with each other’s. Most importantly, everything grows out of the music.”
Even if there are improvised parts, Hétu hastens to add, “The music is mostly written, with the visuals borne out of the music.” In this way, the contributions of video artist Pierre Hébert, lighting designer Guillaume Bloch, costume designer Louis Hudon and sound engineer Bernard Grenon are all in keeping with the music. “So this is a turning of the tables, at least with respect to what usually happens with music and other performing arts,” explains Hétu.
The musical component will be handled by some of musique actuellets best know characters, among them Jean Derome, Diane Labrosse, Pierre Tanguay and Normand Guilbeault, the featured dancers being Daniel Soulières and Séverine Lombardo. “We’re working with textures,” Hétu reminds us, “but the underlying structure behind these are the music. Always.”