French Compagnie On Off brings its water song Le Chant de l’eau to WOMADelaide 2024

La Compagnie On Off Le Chant de l'eau WOMADelaide
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French Compagnie On Off will present its Le Chant de l’eau (The song of water) exclusively at WOMADelaide next month. It will be the first time the company has performed outside of Europe so we are very lucky to have them coming to WOMADelaide 2024! We chat with Cécile Thircuir, the founder and Artistic Director of Compagnie On Off.

La Compagnie On Off Le Chant de l'eau WOMADelaide



Bonjour Cécile Thircuir, where in France is La Compagnie On Off based?

We are based in Lille, a magnificent city located in the North of France. We are literally a stone’s throw from Belgium, which allows us to benefit from the influence of our Belgian neighbours when it comes to humour and self-mockery. The atmosphere here is always warm and friendly, even if the weather can be rainy and grey. We can’t wait to see the climate warm up to brighten our days!


Can you tell us a bit about the history of Compagnie On Off since it was founded in 2003 and how it has evolved over the years?

Since its foundation in 2003, the Compagnie On Off has travelled an exciting and varied road. We started by creating shows which mixed art music and popular music: opera and song. We wanted to create a bridge between noble arts and the lesser regarded arts. It was also a way of creating bridges for audiences.


We have been lucky enough to play a wide variety of venues from major theatres, to prisons, hospitals, refectories, retirement homes, and prestigious festivals. It’s a chance to be in contact with a wide range of social and cultural realities.


In 2013, we created home and moped song deliveries. The artists deliver dedicated songs like a bouquet of flowers. This “concept show”, which is still going strong, was a wonderful learning experience. It made us realise that the most precious part of our profession lies in the emotion and the bond shared during an artistic experience. It has changed our very conception of the audience’s place in our shows, in which we always seek to give people the chance to live and feel an experience.


Le Chant de L’eau comes after 20 years of love for the living, complex beings that we are! We could write entire pages on what it means to celebrate, experience and share our humanities! But the simplest thing is to try the Chant de l’Eau experience, isn’t it?

Here’s a more classic presentation of the company if you’d like some inspiration:

At the heart of our artistic approach lies a conviction: it is the spectator who, through his or her experience and sensitivity, brings the show to life. Since it was founded in 2003, Compagnie On Off has been committed to establishing a vibrant dialogue with audiences, in a simple and friendly way. It explores the emotional, the social, the biological and the cognitive, while cultivating a deep respect for the world around us and for living things in all their forms.

Our work, through our 9 creations, is based on an alchemy between artistic expressions: song blends with theatre, popular music with learned music, and the poetic with the burlesque, in a constant quest for originality, relevance and shared experience.

Under the direction of Cécile Thircuir, the Compagnie On Off has developed a rich and diverse artistic vision, marked by large-scale projects and local initiatives.

Our approach combines creative rigour and openness to human diversity, with generosity and humour, reflecting our commitment to artistic excellence, in all humility.


How would you define the Compagnie On Off’s artistic approach, particularly in terms of creating situations that challenge emotional, social, biological or cognitive aspects?

Our artistic approach at Compagnie On Off is distinguished by our passion for exploring and questioning the different aspects of human life. We firmly believe in the richness and diversity of human intelligence, which manifests itself in a multitude of forms: linguistic, logical and mathematical, spatial, intra-personal, interpersonal, bodily and kinaesthetic, musical, naturalistic, existential… For us, these forms of intelligence offer a vast terrain for play and exploration.


In our artistic projects, we use and imagine tools to get in touch with these multiple forms of intelligence, sometimes putting logic and mathematics to one side. Although… We’re constantly on the lookout for ways to create experiences or to spark movement, reflection and emotion in our audiences.


As well as the shows we put on, we devise specific projects with amateur audiences, in hospitals, with young people in secondary school, with homeless people or undocumented migrants. For us, artistic practice is not limited to the stage; it is above all a means of connecting people, fostering understanding and empathy, and promoting social change.


Can you tell us about the role of social science and neuroscience research in the development of the Compagnie On Off’s experiences?

We’re curious and passionate about how human beings function and how complex they are, in terms of their bodies, psyches, emotions and sensations. When we work on a subject, we immerse ourselves in specialist literature, listen to podcasts and watch documentaries. Sources such as Arte and France Culture are our precious resources of information.


In particular, I am trained in the study of affective neuroscience and clinical sociology, in addition to her training in Gestalt therapy, which stems from humanist currents and provides an approach to affective neuroscience and clinical sociology. It’s an approach that feeds our artistic proposals and allows us to venture into richly infinite territory.


What does Compagnie On Off’s creative process involve, particularly as regards the use of song, invention and humour as preferred tools?

Each creation is like a journey in which singing, invention and humour are our privileged travelling companions. Singing occupies a central place in our work; it’s our means of expression par excellence. We draw our repertoire mainly from existing musical heritage, like so many Proust’s madeleines that will awaken a memory, an imprint in the listener. Each piece we choose is an invitation to revisit the known and venture into the unknown.


We don’t compose the music, but we spend a lot of time arranging the pieces, trying to transform them to surprise and to move people. It’s a way of trusting the audience, inviting them to co-create the experience of live performance from their own inner world, with their cultural and emotional baggage and our artistic touch.


Humour plays a vital role in our work. It is the common thread that lightens our words and facilitates access to the deepest layers of emotion. Laughter is a bit like a magic potion: it liberates, it brings people together, it spreads like a wave of good mood. It’s our way of saying that although we take our work very seriously, we don’t take ourselves too seriously. You won’t find us hanging around the bar all night when we’re in bed, asleep! A bit of a killjoy, perhaps?


What are the main objectives that Compagnie On Off seeks to achieve through its creations and its artistic interventions with audiences?

The company’s objectives are simple, but deeply meaningful: to share intense and unique life experiences with our audiences. Each creation, each artistic intervention is an opportunity to create what we hope will be unforgettable moments, moments of authentic connection.


We measure the success of our projects not only by the audience’s appreciation of the performances, but also by the testimonials we receive afterwards. Our Gold Book is full of touching messages about what we’ve experienced together. Receiving feedback, sometimes even years after our performances, is a real reward and a source of wonder that gives us the impetus to continue our work.


We don’t see ourselves as artists, but rather as facilitators of encounters, artisans of sharing and of life. We also try to simply offer who we are, so that it resonates in people’s hearts long after the final applause.


Can you tell us more about Sébastien Vial’s role as co-artistic director since 2018 and how this has influenced the company’s creative dynamic?

Sébastien Vial has been an invaluable co-artistic director for the company since 2018, bringing his creativity and talent to our creative dynamic. Under his direction, we have experienced some intense artistic moments, including the birth of ‘Municipal Bal’, which will remain engraved in our memories.


Unfortunately, Sébastien has decided to leave the company, and we’re still digesting the news. Separations are always difficult, and we are faced with a mixture of sadness and frustration. However, we are grateful for his contributions and for the artistic chemistry that has emerged from our collaboration.


For now, we prefer to focus on the moments of joy and inspiration we shared with Seb, while gradually turning the page to new horizons for the company.



You’ll be presenting your show Le Chant de L’eau at WOMADelaide next month. Tell us a bit about this show.

Our show Le Chant de L’eau, which we’ll have the pleasure of presenting at the WOMADelaide festival next month, is an experience we’re really looking forward to! Yippee!!! We are infinitely grateful to Ian Scobie for this wonderful invitation and to all the fantastic team at WOMAD.


Le Chant de L’eau is both a light and profound experience. We hope it will bring a breath of fresh air to the audience, while touching them to the core with its authenticity. This show is not designed to stimulate the intellect alone, but rather to awaken the senses, resonate with the body and feed the imagination. We invite the audience to let themselves be carried away by the magic of the present moment, to let themselves be impregnated by the vibrations of the music for an immersive and joyful experience.


This Le Chant de L’eau is one of three in the form of brief therapies and one of a set of 4 artistic proposals revolving around the theme of water. Where did the inspiration for these 3 shows and concert come from?

Water is an infinite source of inspiration and fascination. It’s a subject that touches on so many aspects of our lives and our world. From an environmental point of view, it’s a precious resource whose preservation is crucial. From a symbolic point of view, it is a vital element that represents life itself, and has inspired poets, writers and artists throughout the ages.


Water is also at the heart of many fields, from science to medicine, from industry to religion. Farmers, gardeners and even children are fascinated by water. It’s a universal theme that offers an inexhaustible wealth of food for thought and exploration.


To tackle this diversity of perspectives, it seemed necessary to create three shows and a concert, and even so, we’re only just scratching the surface of this vast and complex subject. Water is truly a bottomless well of richness and inspiration.

Compagnie On Off Le Chant de l'eau Photo: Hervé Escario (3)
Photo: Hervé Escario (3)


When you say it’s water therapy, this show doesn’t contain any water, but it’s the sounds of a stream of soothing waves, isn’t it? What instruments do you use to have this effect – in the teaser I noticed a harp and a sort of violin.

Thank you for your perceptive observation! Indeed, our show Le Chant de L’eau is water therapy without physical water. Instead, we use sound to evoke a flow of waves.


To create this effect, we mainly use the harp, an instrument that naturally evokes the delicacy and fluidity of singing water, a little like lapping drops of water. We use two harps, one static and the other portable, to further enrich this spellbinding atmosphere.


As for the voices, they are our main instruments. They add a human and emotional dimension to the music, allowing us to communicate directly with our audience and give off good vibrations. (Ah, is that a clue to a song in the repertoire?)


Of course, there’s water in our show, but we have a few surprises in store for those who come to see us live. After all, a little mystery is part of the artistic experience, isn’t it?


Le Chant de L’eau is led by a character Lucy Martin. Is she based on anyone real?

Lucie Martin, or Lucy Martin, is a fictional character we created for Le Chant de L’eau as well as for the other three pieces and the concert. She is a mixture of various inspirations and is not based on a specific real person.


We decided to give her a different origin depending on whether we were performing in French or English. In French, she’s from Liverpool and speaks with a very British accent, whereas in English, she’s from Bordeaux and fully embraces her French accent! How are things? Does everyone follow? At WOMAD, we’re presenting the English version, but we’d love to perform the French version! Attention fans!


This exuberant and passionate character was born out of our preparatory research into the controversial theories of water memory, scientific studies on the impact of music on emotional state, sleep, anxiety and neurodegenerative diseases, as well as the benefits of care, attention and intention. Lucie is a little whimsical, a little crazy, but above all full of joy and passion, reflecting perhaps a little of ourselves.


Why is it important for you to have this “intimate, collective experience of letting go and surrendering to the present moment.”

Ahhhh, the present moment. It’s a quest and a conquest of every moment, isn’t it? We live in an ultra-fast world, where we can reach the opposite end of the world in two clicks, where we can get answers with a few swipes of our fingers on a screen no bigger than the palm of our hand! The present moment is a luxury that we want to offer, to enable an intimate, incarnate moment.


An intimate experience means being in touch with yourself, and living it as part of a group gives it added value. As social beings, we are naturally drawn to sharing. A meal eaten alone and a meal shared, even with a stranger, will not have the same flavour! There’s an abundance of universal love in this kind of sharing, and a mirror effect that enriches our experience. As Jean-Marie Robine puts it so well, it’s a question of “appearing on the occasion of another“.


At first sight, and put like that, all this may seem complicated, but in reality, it’s very simple. There’s nothing new about it, just a new way of presenting it.


What do you hope to produce in the participants of Le Chant de L’eau?

Fundamentally, we hope that the care we give our audience will have a cascading effect, inspiring the good and the beautiful and inspiring the desire to radiate that positivity. We hope that Le Chant de L’eau will gently awaken awareness and embody the value of life. That our bodies, the water and our entire planet are seen as precious treasures, and that we are all interconnected.


We modestly hope that the elements of imagination, poetry, humour and polyphonic song will contribute to an awareness of our wonderful existence, and of the beauty of the world around us.


We are aware that our aspirations may seem ambitious, even pretentious, and that our efforts may not quite achieve our goal. But we’d rather try and fail than not try at all!


Le Chant de L’eau will be presented three times a day on Saturday, Sunday and Monday of WOMADelaide. How long does this show last?

The show lasts 45 minutes.


What are the challenges of presenting Le Chant de L’eau at a music festival full of music from other stages like WOMADelaide?

This is a really special and exciting occasion for us! It’s a first for us! We’ve never had the opportunity to go as further afield than Spain, Belgium (it’s just twenty kilometres away) or Luxembourg. It’s a gift of life.


We don’t really see any major challenges, other than preparing ourselves as best we can for the event. At the time of writing these answers, we are in rehearsals to adapt the show into English. We are working at Le Channel, Scène Nationale de Calais, an extraordinary venue that offers us unconditional energy and support. We’ll be taking that energy with us in our suitcases to the festival.


To be honest, we don’t fully realise the stage fright that awaits us until we really realise the scale of this event. But for the moment, our naivety is protecting us, and that’s fine. We have great confidence in Ian Scobie, who programmed us. We can’t wait to take advantage of his exceptional programme, and above all, to meet this continent and its people!


Will you be performing at any other festivals or venues in Australia?

No, nowhere else.


What else would you like to tell us?

Your questions were incredibly pertinent. They required me to rack my brains and I’m absolutely exhausted!

We thank Cécile Thircuir for this interview and look forward to experiencing Compagnie On Off’s Le Chant de l’eau at WOMADelaide 2024.


WHAT: Compagnie On Off presents Le Chant de l’eau

WHERE: Only at WOMADelaide 2024 in Botanic Park, Adelaide

WHEN: Three times daily from Saturday 9th to Monday 11th March 2024

HOW: Purchase a ticket to WOMADelaide 2024 via its website

HOW MUCH: It depends on which ticket you choose, which is dependent on how many days you wish to attend WOMADelaide for


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