In Vivo

Held during the ManiFeste Academy, the In Vivo workshops invite young artist to venture into a unique production. A glimpse into In Vivo, led this year by the circus artist Jérôme Thomas and the composer Mauro Lanza.

“I don’t know what’s going on, but I like it!”
The exclamation comes from Jérôme Thomas. Standing in the front of the stage, squinting to see into the darkness beyond the spotlights that flood the stage, he is speaking to Guillaume Tiger, a young composer hunched over his computer, far above the seats.

“This moves!”
On stage, the juggler Ria Rehfuß moves through a whirling solo that exudes an aura of magic: in her hands, a large white plaque seems to float, as if the plaque wasn’t made of plastic, but a vibrating metal. The contrast between the juggler’s elegance and gracefulness and the—more or less apoctolyptic—waves of the spatialized musical discourse is striking. Shortly later, Jérôme Thomas seeks agreement from Mauro Lanza, “It’s working better with Guillaume, isn’t it?”
We don’t know exactly why, but apparently the couple had reached a block that had been going on for a while. At the end of the last break, Jérôme Thomas took a few minutes to talk with Guillaume Tiger, responsible for the music for the third and final scene of the performance. A pep talk to encourage Tiger to listen to his own intuitions while being open to what is happening on stage.

A Constantly Evolving Work

Two days from the final presentation of the 2016 session of In Vivo Électro and concentration is at an all-time high. In the small theater at the 104, while our attention is immediately drawn to the four circus artists/dancers/jugglers (Audrey Decaillon, Viola Ferraris, Florence Huet, Ria Rehfuß) who are working on stage under the watchful eye of Jérôme Thomas, they are not the only ones to be hard at work. Three young electro composers (the Russian Stanislav Makovsky, the Italian Luca Scapellato, and the French Guillaume Tiger) polish their musical propositions with the help of the composer Mauro Lanza and the IRCAM pedagogical advisors Jean Lochard and Augustin Muller. The focus of this workshop is for some to study with a renowned master of juggling, for others it is to address working on a stage, and for all it is meeting another artistic discipline, its specificities, its temporalities, in order to interact better with it.

There are only two days left before the performance and, yet, much remains to be done. Be it on stage where the four jugglers are continually given instructions, guidelines, and critiques, on the music and its dialogue between the two worlds, between image and sound, a dialogue that affects the work of each participant, and therefore refashions the global presentation.  Of course, the three tableaux that make up the performance were imagined over 20 years ago in 1995 for the first part of HIC HOC. Of course, Jérôme Thomas decided on the outline for the performance when the workshop began almost two weeks earlier. But reusing a movement after so long, and especially with new music, requires several adjustments.

“The first time I talked with the students,” begins Jérôme Thomas, “we were quickly involved in the concrete. Concerning the composers, I didn’t know their work, but I explained them the meaning of the piece and the tools I was going to use to conduct their music and their music was of course a part of that. My experience at the CNAC and the Académie Fratellini taught me that the best way to teach is to put students in a context that stimulates creation: concentration, deadlines… interspersed with teaching moments from time tot time in order to analyze the work being done or the creative issues in the work: it liberates the students!”

This is how Jérôme Thomas’ work advances, between charisma and intuition: while a general direction is indicated, flexibility is the key word.

“The form comes directly from the work on stage led by Jérôme,” says Mauro Lanza. “The musical form naturally follows. It is new for me too: I’ve never worked like this! It is a learning experience for me too. But, when I was asked to lead this workshop, I was immediately fascinated by Jérôme’s universe and the almost slapstick quality of his juggling.”

The juggling continues to be perfected, as does the interaction between the action on stage and the music. The arrival the day before of Bernard Revel, lighting designer, enriches the performance and makes the already delicate interactions between the two discourses even more complex.  In the first scene, for example, during which four jugglers manipulate long canes topped with white balls, Luca Scapellato uses a tool for motion capture to add to his electronic music discourse. The system consists of a video camera that follows the evolution of the balls that reflect the light in real-time. Hidden in the dark, the jugglers give the feeling the balls they manipulate travel alone through space, like a long serpent or fireflies. The eruption of light is therefore a new parameter that could possibly disrupt a discourse already calibrated.

Jérôme Thomas is one of the pioneers of these technologies for motion capture applied to juggling and to music. The adventure began with his successive meetings with the composers Henry Fourès and Luc Ferrari during the 1990s. It was through the latter that Jérôme Thomas discovered the concept of a “juggling score”. A few years later, this score for juggling became a score for sound when he developed, in relation with IRCAM and particularly with Augustin Muller, a system of sensors intended to master electronic sounds.

“The virtuosity has moved,” he says. “It is no longer an illusion of an image, but a sonorous feeling that takes over, that gives it a certain density. It is as if the image became heavier, became a wall.”

Sliding Counterpoint

In the second scene, another issue becomes apparent: the synchronization between juggling and music. Yet one of the big steps forward in the past few years, Jérôme Thomas reminds us, is that we are less concerned with a “prefect synchronization between the stage and the soundtrack. Notably through the use of new tools, but not only. The result is that actors feel less pressure to respect the musical measure, giving more visual power.” In this case, however, the question is not only harmonizing the temporal sentiments of the two discourses in counterpoint, but to synchronize the means of the two processes. In this scene, elastics drop hangers that are spun by the jugglers. At the end, they spin them like tops and then let them go — it is at this very instant that Stanislav Makovsky wants to set off a pretty effect in his noise score, impactful and rhythmic.

Tension is thick between Jérôme Thomas and the rest of the team during this work session: his irritation is obvious, as is impatience and a few misunderstandings. “This time is painstaking for me,” says a tense Jérôme Thomas. “My actors can’t wait, it’s too noticeable on stage.”

Upon a suggestion from Mauro Lanza and Jean Lochard, a new attempt is made. But this time the top goes off in the other direction (which is not supposed to happen), setting off a new failure. Finally, everything fits together, not easily and with apprehension about the upcoming performance.

A student at the Conservatoire de Paris in composition, electronics, and improvisation, Stanislav Makovsky is so committed to this In Vivo workshop that he engages in the ultimate confrontation with the stage, walking down on to the stage himself with an electronic instrument to improvise with the jugglers. Halfway between a stick and a guitar, creating a very noisy sound like an overly saturated electric guitar, this instrument requires a very theatrical performance, like the manipulation of an object. Walking on stage like a specter or a rock star, he integrates perfectly the elastics being played.

Jérémie Szpirglas