Les Commandos Percus bring their show Silence! to Adelaide Fringe 2023

Reading Time: 7 minutes
International street arts company Les Commandos Percu is coming to Australia to present their show Silence! at Adelaide Fringe 2023 next month. We spoke to Audrey Itier, Production Administrator at Les Commandos Percu. Read our interview with her below.
Les Commandos Percu - Silence!
Image: (c) Numéro Six Photography

Les Commandos Percu is an international street arts company that existed since 1994. How was the company founded?

The company was created by Raymond Gabriel based on the observation that the public was going to see concerts in halls less and less. He came up with the idea of going to meet the public where they are, i.e. in the street, and to surprise them with instruments that you won’t find anywhere else because we create them ourselves. This is where our formula “rhythm, movement, fire” comes from. Our aim is clear: to reach out to the audience, to abolish the stage, or rather to integrate the entire space as a space for creation.

 

Your percussions and your pyrotechnic know-how have travelled the world and you’re coming to Adelaide Fringe in Australia this February with your show Silence! Is this your South Australian première? I think you may have been to Perth Festival with your mobile intervention called “Radeaux humains” (Human Rails).

We have indeed performed in Australia before. The first time was in 2006, when we performed Le Concert du Feu “The Fire Concert” at the Sydney Festival, and then in 2013, when we performed Très Méchant(s) “Very Nasty” at the Perth International Arts Festival, with volunteers trained a few days before to participate in the show alongside the company’s musicians. But this will be the first time we have performed ‘Silence!’ in Australia.

 

How long have you been planning to bring this show to Australia?

We started negotiations in July 2021 to participate in the 2022 edition of the festival, which was postponed to 2023 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. After this very long wait, we are now looking forward to being there and meeting the FRINGE Festival audience in Adelaide!

 

The show Silence! is not at all silent. Tell us a little about what audiences can expect from this show?

With the show Silence!, Les Commandos Percu invent a storm of sounds and of fire. Between two notes, between two drum beats, silence releases all its strength. What will happen? What will happen next? Was there a countdown, an explanation given for this darkened horizon? Someone has shouted: “Silence! No matter: time is now suspended, everything stands still. Then a dull roll rises from the depths until it becomes an immense crash, a rain of metal fills the whole space, lightning invades the sky. The murmur of the drums becomes a clamour pulsating with a beat that no one can resist…

Silence!
Image: Silence! – Fes’art Libourne – (c) V.Balège

Between the loud noises of the drums and the fireworks, there is silence. Is the show a sort of meditation?

The title of this show was inspired by a quote by Franck Zappa, which could almost be described as philosophical: “music is silence that is distorted”. It is on this subject that one could meditate at length…

 

According to the Adelaide Fringe website, the show goes for 4 hours. Is this true or will the show be repeated several times during the 4 hours?

The show lasts 45-50 minutes and there will only be one performance each night. We don’t have all the information yet, but I think there will be 2 other shows that will be presented between the time the doors open and the time of our show.

 

What was the inspiration for Silence!?

The idea of the show came from The idea for this show came from several questions: How to transform the energy of chaos into a vital impulse? How to create when everything collapses, when there is nothing left? How to react to constraint with ingenuity?

 

The challenge is not to make Les Commandos Percu the first post-apocalyptic percussion group, but to return to the fundamentals of the company: to observe and recycle the materials and sounds of the world to reinvent a living music, incarnate in a show, made of flesh and sweat.

 

What is your first love? Pyrotechnics or music?

The answer is obvious: music! Making our own instruments has “isolated” us in an imaginary culture, as if we came from a distant land, saving us from having to copy music and cultures that were not our own. Two sticks, a few “tricks” on which we can create sound colours, simple or incredibly complex things, to imagine the framework of a show, to find the pleasure in sharing, to make bodies move, to seek trance: the world of rhythm is immense.

 

The result is our own rhythms and sounds, a whole universe patiently assembled, an infinite number of combinations, pulsations, polyrhythms, but also a story to tell, an intention, a path strewn with pyrotechnic surprises: a real watchmaker’s job!

 

What amuses us most is extending the sounds to transform them into lights and sparks.

Silence!
Image: Silence ! – Fes’art Libourne – (c) V.Balège

 

What has been your journey so far?

The company has been in existence for almost 30 years, and we have created many shows that have taken us all over the world, to all continents.

 

Adelaide’s temperatures can rise into the 40s in the summer, how do you protect yourself from such temperatures when you are surrounded by fire? What are the challenges of putting on such a show in the summer in a country known for bush fires?

We are experiencing the same climatic phenomenon in Europe, where summers are getting hotter and hotter, and the risks are getting higher. But all of our team has a fireworks certificate, and fire safety measures are reinforced.

 

How many people are on stage?

There are only 5 people on stage, but the movements and the shifts may suggest that there are many more! This is also part of the surprise effect.

 

How have you adapted your shows to more environmentally aware audiences and ever-changing technology?

This show aims to draw attention to and make the audience think about environmental issues. It encourages the audience to question the future and to ask themselves: “How can we create when everything is falling apart? What will we do when there is nothing left?

 

Moreover, our shows are 6 to 7 times less polluting than traditional fireworks because we use less active material. We are also careful about recycling the waste that our shows generate and we leave the site as clean as before we arrived!

Image: Silence ! – Fes’art Libourne – (c) V.Balège

What is your creative process?

The creative process is quite long. It all starts with a desire, an intention, in other words, what message do we want to convey through the show. A long period of reflection and musical creation follows, then comes the stage direction and pyrotechnical writing phase. We also have the need to be constantly evolving, which means that the show ‘Silence’ that you see at Adelaide Fringe will not be exactly the same as the one you saw at the Sziget Festival for example. After each performance we spend a lot of time analysing what happened, the comments of the audience or the organisers. Our shows are never static, in the sense that we are always looking for the best possible performance.

 

How long does it take to create a show like Silence!?

The creation of Silence! required several months of work, between the musical composition, the pyrotechnical writing, directing and building décor.

 

Apart from people who don’t like loud noises, is Silence! for all audiences?

Absolutely, this show is for all audiences. Even people who don’t like noise can come to the show, placing themselves at the back of the crowd or wearing adapted hearing protection for example. Some will appreciate the music more, others the pyrotechnics, the sensations provided by the percussion and the fire, or again the staging, but in general feedback from audiences is unanimous in their experience of the show

Silence!
Image: (c) V.Balège

Why should people come see Silence! at Adelaide Fringe?

The energy of the perucssion combined with that of the fire is quite simply fascinating, as if we are touching something essential. Nature’s forces seem to want to express themselves through what we do, as If we were volcanologists holding the audience by the hand to look at the base of the crater. Higher, in the night, stars and coloured forms make us more so astronomers faced with starry canvases. The grinding of the drums, sweaty bodies in the smoke and ask form like a grand wild ritual.

 

Plus, our musical and pyrotechnical know-how is quite unique in the world, and feedback from audiences are our largest reward! People write to us often after our shows to thank us, it’s very powerful…

 

At a large festival in Europe, an audience member came up to us and said the most wonderful compliment: “I think you inspire people. You make them want to invent something, as if everyone had a seed to germinate, as if you were proof that it is possible!”

 

We really want to share an exceptional moment with the audience, a kind of jubilant wildness, elementary and primordial joy!

KEY INFO FOR SILENCE!

WHAT: Silence!
WHERE: 5.30pm Friday 17 February – Sunday 19 February
WHEN: Elder Park, Adelaide
HOW: Buy your tickets through this link: https://adelaidefringe.com.au/fringetix/silence-af2023
HOW MUCH: Ticket prices (excluding booking fees) are as follows:
  • Full Price: $55
  • Concession: $45
  • Child: $35
  • Family: $160
  • Schools: $30
  • Companion Card: Free
For all shows with French and francophone links at the Adelaide Fringe, click here.
For all events with French and francophone links happening around Australia this month, check out the What’s on in January.

Subscribe

Enter your email to subscribe to new article notifications about all things French and francophone in Australia

Tomas Dalton talks to us about Opera Australia’s Carmen on Cockatoo Island

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Tomas Dalton is a tenor singing in the chorus of Opera Australia’s production of French opera, Carmen on Cockatoo Island. Directed by Liesel Badorrek, it is a modern interpretation of Carmen performed on the stunning Cockatoo Island in Sydney harbour. We chat with Tomas Dalton.

Carmen on Cockatoo Island
Image: Opera Australia

Tomas Dalton, you’re part of the chorus in the Opera Australia production of Carmen. Tell us about this opera and your role in the chorus.

Carmen is a busy evening for the chorus, there is a lot of marvellous music to sing, and the chorus is often present to participate in or comment on the action In this particular production, the chorus is almost always there.

 

The production is a very modern interpretation of Carmen. What are the elements that distinguish this production from others of Carmen?

I think that this production of Carmen is particularly unique because of its location.  It’s the first time that an opera has been performed on Cockatoo Island, and the view is magnificent. The addition of fireworks, motorcycle stunts and incredible dancing and singing makes this event very special.

Dancers in rehearsals for Carmen on Cockatoo Island. Photo Credit: Rhiannon Hopley

What is director Liesel Badorrek’s vision for Carmen? How does her methodology differ from other directors with whom you’ve worked?

For Liesel, I think that Carmen is the story of a woman who wants to live freely and live by her own rules. The world we depict is one of misfits, rebels and outcasts; Suzie Quatro was a source of inspiration for the rock style of this production. (I think French audiences may also remember the spirit of the soixante-huitards)  [Those who took part in, or otherwise supported, the civil unrest in France in May 1968].

Liesel came to the rehearsals with so much knowledge and preparation, while simultaneously working in a very collaborative style. She has very clear ideas and is also interested in the performers’ ideas. As an artist, it’s a perfect balance. It also helps that she is very easy-going and a very funny and dynamic person.

 

This production of Carmen will take place outdoors on Cockatoo Island in Sydney. What are the challenges of singing outdoors?

Opera is typically an acoustic art form, and we have been learning for many years to sing in a theatre without amplification. Of course, to sing outdoors in such a large space, it is necessary to use amplification, so it is an unusual experience for an opera singer. However, the technique is the same, you have to trust the usual feeling of singing, and trust the sound technicians to transmit it to the audience.

 

We are also praying for good weather.

 

What sort of audience is this opera for?

This opera is for the enthusiast and the beginner alike. The exuberant staging and performance make it accessible to all, and the truly world-class singing is a treat for connoisseurs.

 

Do you think that the fact that it is a modern interpretation and that it is performed outside will bring a younger audience to the opera?

I hope so! Through my work with Opera Australia, I have shown many friends their first opera. Each time, they are amazed and delighted to love it so much. This opera is able to appeal to a wide range of sensibilities. I also think that the outdoor setting will be familiar to those who are used to music festivals.

Carmen on Cockatoo Island
Sian Sharp as Carmen in Opera Australia’s production of Carmen on Cockatoo Island 2022 Photo Credit: Rhiannon Hopley

How many people will be singing with you in the chorus?

There are forty-six singers in the choir. Each of them is a great artist, and I have the privilege of calling them my colleagues.

 

You have also sung in various tenor roles for Opera Australia, including French opera La Juive earlier this year. Is it difficult not to stand out more than others when you go from solo to chorus? 

You approach singing in chorus or solo a little differently, but the fundamentals are the same. For example, the blend and sensitivity that a chorister needs are the same for a soloist singing a duet, trio or quartet. If one has a solid technique and a well-developed musicality it is possible to move from one to the other.

 

During our Carmen season I will also be understudying Rodolfo for some rehearsals of La Bohème. This will require careful management of stamina and energy, but this is also true of my fellow choristers who often perform up to four operas at the same time.

 

How long have you been singing? What made you choose singing as a profession? And why did you choose opera as a genre?

I think I was like a lot of singers, and I’ve always sung since I was little. My parents understood that I liked to make music and they allowed me to study piano and sing in children’s choirs.

 

The decision to sing opera came later. I began studying piano in college, but had sung in musicals in school and always loved to sing. It was when I participated in a student opera at uni directed by the late Richard Gill that I realised that opera was the only choice for me.

There is something transcendent about opera. It is the truest, most human emotion, but set to sublime music sung by Olympian voices. I love the idea of speaking directly to someone in the audience’s soul and making their day better.

Tomas Dalton
Tomas Dalton
Image: Opera Australia

You studied music at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music and in Italy as a recipient of the Acclaim Awards Italian Opera Scholarship and the Johnson Bequest. Tell us a little about your experience studying in Italy, do you speak Italian?

It was fantastic to study in the birthplace of opera. Of course, in Australia we have a very vibrant arts scene, but opera is such an integral part of the cultural life there. One restaurant owner even told me “it’s in our blood“.

I was very lucky to find a great teacher who helped me a lot with my voice, and of course to have the chance to study and practice Italian every day. I’m not saying I speak it perfectly, but I am very grateful to be able to converse in Italian. Just like French, it is a great help with singing.

 

We are doing this interview in French, you studied in Italy, do you speak other languages?

I think that even though I speak French and Italian quite well, I do have a touch of other languages. Of course, German is another important opera language. I studied how to pronounce it and sing it, and I can understand it a little and have very simple conversations.

 

I think it’s polite to learn a few phrases of the language whenever you travel. So I can order coffee and ask for directions in Greek and one or two other languages. But I absolutely cannot read the Greek alphabet!

 

How did you become a Francophone?

I was very lucky to have inspiring and knowledgeable teachers at school. Thanks to them, I realised how much better you can appreciate a culture when you understand its language. They inspired me to continue to study French in parallel with my music studies at the university. And of course to travel at every opportunity – the greatest language teacher of all! The challenge is to find the opportunity to practice so that it stays in the mind.

 

Alexander Sefton as Escamillo and the Opera Australia Chorus in rehearsals for Carmen on Cockatoo Island.
Photo Credit: Rhiannon Hopley

You have toured Australia, Germany, Denmark and France as a soloist with the Australian Chamber Choir. Tell us about your experience touring Europe with the ACC.

Doing this type of performance is a great experience, but it’s also like an endurance sport. You arrive in a new city almost every day for another concert. You have to have endurance and discipline. I’ve also been lucky to have so many friends in the choir because we spent almost every moment together for several weeks.

 

It was a great gift to be able to see so many beautiful cities, even briefly, and to share some of the most beautiful music with a very appreciative audience.

 

Do you have a ritual before you go on stage?

I don’t have any superstitions before I perform, but I always like to warm up my voice with the same exercises. The most important preparation is well before the premiere; learning, studying, and rehearsing. It’s a wonderful feeling to trust your preparation and surrender to the music and the character.

 

It is also important to do fairly mundane things like sleeping well, staying hydrated, etc.

 

What is your favorite opera to sing?

Recently, I had the opportunity to sing Alfredo in La Traviata for the first time. I learned on the morning of the premiere that the tenor was ill. It was an exhilarating experience that would be difficult to match.

 

What is your favorite opera to watch or listen to?

It changes so often. Sometimes I listen for pleasure, sometimes to learn. I might listen to the same aria sung by ten different singers to understand how they solve a problem of technique or music.

 

Almost all the operas in the repertoire speak to my soul, but I am particularly touched by the works of Gounod and Puccini.

 

What are the challenges of singing in a language that is not your own?

There are many, but for every challenge there is a great reward. Of course, one has to be convincing to native listeners, and we are very lucky to have Nicole Dorigo, our wonderful language coach for Carmen. Not only the pronunciation of the words, but you also have to consider the rhythm and cadence of the language, especially in Carmen where there is also dialogue.

 

You have to understand the words to give a believable characterisation. A dictionary can be enough, but I find a sense of freedom in having my own understanding of a language. I can be much more spontaneous and intuitive in the rehearsal room.

 

Do you think that being French-speaking helps you sing operatic languages like Italian better?

I think learning French has given me the confidence to try other operatic languages without fear.

 

French and Italian are both very well suited to beautiful singing, although they do have their differences. The task of the singer is to integrate these differences into a consistent and coherent vocal technique while respecting the language of the composer.

 

Do you have a dream opera that you want to perform? And also, a dream venue in which you dream of performing?

I hope one day to play the roles of Faust and Werther. Two troubled and fascinating men, each gifted by their composers with truly sublime music.

I feel I should probably say in a French interview that I would love to sing at the Garnier Opera!

 

Why should people see Carmen on Cockataoo Island?

Come hear some wonderful music and have a fun, fabulous and truly unique evening!

We thank Tomas Dalton for this wonderful interview.

KEY INFO FOR CARMEN ON COCKATOO ISLAND

WHAT: French opera Carmen

WHERE: Cockatoo Island, Sydney

WHEN: 7:30pm from 25 November to 18 December (except Mondays)

HOW: Purchase your tickets via the Opera Australia website

HOW MUCH:

Adults from $79 for B Reserve to $149 for Premium Reserve (+ $9.80 booking fee)

Ferry tickets to and from Cockatoo Island can be booked separately when you purchase performance tickets

Have you seen a performance of Carmen before? Or an outdoors performance of opera?

 

For other events related to France, the French language or the Francophonie, click here.

 

If you’re interested in opera, you may like to read some of our other interviews:

Opera Australia’s La Traviata takes you to Paris

Soprano Cathy-Di Zhang stars in State Opera South Australia production Bohème on the Beach this weekend

French opera La Juive is currently on in Sydney

See Elena Gabouri in the Opera Australia’s Aida in Sydney and Brisbane

French opera The Pearl Fishers on in Adelaide from this week.

Franck Evin, lighting designer, chats to us about The Golden Cockerel

 

Subscribe

Enter your email to subscribe to new article notifications about all things French and francophone in Australia