Synergy represented by:

L-R: Amanda Morrison, Julia Batchelor, Micaela Haslam, Katy Hill

“Paris in June – and how lovely to be in the same place for the best part of three weeks. We could unpack properly and make little homes of our studio apartments. Our hotel was in Bercy, to the south east of the centre, but it couldn’t have been easier to get into town and to the incredibly glamorous Opéra Garnier where we had twelve performances of Rain Live (Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians with choreography by Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker). Dream gig!

L’Opéra Garnier
L’Opéra Garnier

We’d performed the piece many times before with Ictus, but always with Anne Teresa’s own dance company, Rosas. This time we were working with the dancers of the Opéra de Paris, and they’d been learning the piece for several months (coached by four members of Rosas) before we arrived. A veritable tour de force, Rain Live is physically very demanding, very tricky to remember, and particularly challenging for these classical dancers (who renamed the piece “Brain!”). Rain Live is danced bare-foot, and involves a lot of lifting, running, braking, falling, hand-stands and what we decided was basically “advanced gym”. As the performances approached, we noticed more and more bandaged feet on stage as the hard skin on the dancers’ feet started to split – argh! They may look graceful, beautiful and serene, but there’s an awful lot of pain involved in their business.

“Rain” in rehearsal
“Rain” in rehearsal
“Rain” in rehearsal
Rehearsing in the pit

The four women of Synergy Vocals were seated in the pit with the Ictus players, and the sides of the pit were raised with the singers on the tallest risers. We could see the whole auditorium as well as the stage – probably the best view in the house.

The Opéra Auditorium

Ceiling painted by Chagall
Mandy’s moves!

Some of the dancers would give us a wink when they came towards the front of the stage, which was fun. Backstage, they’d sing snippets of our vocal lines when we passed them in the corridors. We offered to swap roles obviously, but this is about as far as we got with the dancing.

Over the course of the run, we all had family and friends to stay. It was lovely to have Will with me for a couple of weeks. Mandy’s husband, Nev, and her sister, Claire, popped over for a holiday, as did Chris Hill (Katy’s husband and bass player with Jamie Cullum, no less). Julia’s husband, David, joined us for the whole project, and their son, Sebastian, was as usual the star of the show for the duration of his stay. He was totally at home in Paris – late night dinners with the team, a bit of sight-seeing, enjoying the parks, swimming in the outdoor pool at Bercy, and of course taking pictures for the family album.

Seb orders the wine
Julia & Seb on the Metro

A new David Bailey in the making

Both Mandy and I celebrated our birthdays whilst in Paris – a good excuse for several rounds of Kir Royale (as if we needed one!). There was also plenty of time for sight-seeing. I particularly enjoyed the Jacquemart-André house which I’d never visited before. I could quite happily live in this property. It has funky walls in this reception room that can be lowered hydraulically into the basement in order to open the space up into a grand function room.

Reception room at Jacquemart André Museum

There’s also a stunning pair of spiral staircases that were designed by the bloke who lost the Opéra contract to Mr. Garnier. He must have been gutted to lose the Opéra gig, but his staircases are beautiful!

Jacquemart André staircase

Notre Dame was looking particularly gorgeous. This was the first time in living memory that I’d seen it sans scaffolding. Will and I found a lovely restaurant on the Left Bank where we could sit and enjoy the view of the cathedral by night. Lovely!

Notre Dame at night
Notre Dame

We had glorious sunshine every day for the first two weeks, so all the famous sites were looking their best.

Sacre Coeur
Pretty streets of Montmartre

Busker on the Ile

And the busking prize goes to this man on the Ile de la Cité. His piano was really rubbishly honky-tonk, but he played it so well and with such panache. I loved it! Do they have a “France’s Got Talent” show? Here’s your winner!

My only disappointment on this trip was that I just couldn’t find a decent cup of coffee. Whatever happened to those delicious milky coffees that you used to get in bowls, into which you dipped your morning croissant? Having tried about six cafes and six nasty, bitter concoctions topped with watery shaving foam, I asked precisely this question. The cafe owner said “you mean café grand’mère?”. Blimey, I’m not that old! Still – yes, that sounded promising. So, he poured the nasty bitter coffee into a bowl – ah, me! Finally, after about ten days we stumbled across this place in Le Marais – decent coffee at last, hurrah!

Strong and smooth without any bitterness, and the coffee wasn’t bad either – ha!

My only other disappointment was that I couldn’t sit out front at the Opéra and watch the show. All twelve performances were sold out and the audiences absolutely loved it. Music for 18 Musicians is a piece that can vary hugely in speed and duration, so Anne Teresa had cleverly designed her choreography round one specific performance, which we more or less repeated each evening with the help of a stock clock. The dancers take their cues both from the music and from the clock, and the music changes at specific times (but not so that anyone in the audience would notice). The good news was that every show lasted exactly one hour, 8 minutes and 47 seconds (or thereabouts – I can’t remember the exact number), so following a 7.30pm show, we could always be ensconced in a restaurant by 9pm – very civilised.

“Rain Live” set from back of stage

Towards the end of the run, we had two whole days off – or rather, the others did. I headed off to Barcelona to coach another ensemble who were putting Music for 18 together for the first time. It should have been so simple, but blimey, what an adventure that turned out to be. More about that in the next instalment….

Back just in time for the final performance and fond farewells to the dancers and to our old friends at Ictus, and of course to each other. What a lovely time we’d had in Paris!”


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