Female-led new commissions are at the heart of this year’s Festival of Voice programme. Created by Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff’s biennial international arts festival is back for its second edition, igniting the city with powerful voices from 7 – 17 June. In this series, we meet the voices behind this year’s new creations. Here we speak to musician Katell Keineg – writer of and performer in Highway One, a new gig-theatre-cinema hybrid – and Mathilde Lopez of August 012, who is directing the piece as well as co-producing with Wales Millennium Centre…
Tell us about your new show
(Mathilde Lopez) It’s the story of a pilgrimage to Delphi, to the Oracle, an epic and mundane search for meaning in a world drowning in pointless information. It is also a story of grief and the character Mari’s struggle to overcome the absence of her sister, and of absence in general. Led by a centaur, the dead film-maker Pier Paolo Pasolini, Medea and many wise women, we travel from bus stations to check-in queues to airport lounges and to all the other non-places where our lives happen, these interstices where we catch fragments of the mythological beings that we are.
Tell us what inspired you to make this new work
(Katell Keineg) My first inspiration for Highway One was watching Medea, Pasolini’s 1969 film, many years ago when I lived in New York. It sparked a passion in me for Pasolini’s work and I was particularly marked by the centaur’s poetic speech at the beginning of the film, it said something to me about existence that I could never quite grasp, and which kept me coming back.
The second inspiration was “Dora”, a song I wrote about my half-sister who’s a character in the show. There’s a line in it that says, “…And I came here, to haggle at Delphi”. I decided to go to Delphi to try and haggle and Delphi became part of “Highway One”.
Tell us about your team
(Mathilde) This whole adventure started with Katell and me sitting in a room, her writing, me drawing.
We carried on like that for a while trusted and supported by Sarah Leigh and Graeme Farrow from Wales Millennium Centre.
Then August 012’s regular collaborators joined in: Production Manager Matt Davies, Designer Milla Clark, Video/Photographer and artist Jorge Lizalde, Light designer Ace McArron and some new ones too: Assistant director Jac Ifan Moore, Costume designer Jiyoon Jung and Puppet designer Olivia Racionzer.
Now we also have a rock band – Iwan Huws, Eugene Capper and Gwion Llewelyn; an amazing group of actors – Tom Mumford, Siwan Morris, Christopher Elson, Seren Vickers; two beautiful young performers – Ann El Marioud and Olivia Weston; a gang of senior Oracles from all over Cardiff and choreographer Matteo Marfoglia.
Finally, but crucially there’s Emma Evans, our producer, holding it all together with great courage.
Tell us about yourself
(Mathilde) I trained at Central Saint Martins in Performance Design, have a Mastersin Theatre Directing from Birkbeck College and was a founding member of National Theatre Wales. I was previously assistant director and literary manager for Theatre Royal Stratford East, I’m a freelance director and the founder and artistic director of August 012.
My company brings international plays to Wales and develops ideas and innovative staging with actors, designers, musicians, creative technicians and participants from the community. Anchored in text, my work is recognisable for its take on space, its irreverence for theatre conventions, its relentless research into aesthetic and investigation into audience involvement. I regularly teach at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and I’m the recipient of a Creative Wales Award which enabled me to further and develop my interest in opera.
I’m currently developing a site-specific version of The Coronation of Poppea for Welsh National Opera at Llanishen Tax Office.
(Katell) I’m primarily a songwriter and a musician. This is my first experience working in theatre and the second thing I’ve written that isn’t a song, the first was an essay for a USbook. My music life has been peripatetic and somewhat non-linear as rock and roll careers go!
Some of the highlights have been touring extensively in North America and Europe, playing many festivals, releasing four albums, the first two on the Elektra label and collaborating with artists as diverse as Iggy Pop, Allen Ginsberg, Natalie Merchant and more recently Dutch composer Marike Van Dijk with whom I just released an album.
I grew up first in Brittany and then moved to Penpedairheol, a mining village in the Rhymney Valley, at the age of 9. My father, Paol Keineg, is a poet and playwright writing in French. He wrote some of Highway One which I then translated. I’m currently recording an album of new songs including the ones in the show which will be released later this year.
What does Festival of Voice mean to you?
(Katell) I went to several gigs at the first Festival Of Voice in 2016 and I thought, at last! I got to see the Mystères Des Voix Bulgares in Llandaff Cathedral and I was ecstatic, I’ve been listening to that choir since I was a child. There were so many interesting things on and I’m thrilled that I’m now one of the things on offer for 2018!
It’s been an honour to be commissioned to create something for theatre for the first time. It’s also been a rollercoaster. I’ve cried actual salty tears when I’ve been really scared that I couldn’t do it and then there have been tremendous highs when I thought, god, yes, I think I can write! Through most of it I’ve had Mathilde as my co-conspirator and guide. There’s an expression in French – companions de chord, it’s when you’re roped together going up the slopes and your fates are intertwined. It’s been a privilege to be on the end of that rope with the imaginative powerhouse that is Mathilde Lopez.
What are you looking forward to from the rest of the Festival of Voice programme?
(Katell) I’m looking forward to Gruff Rhys and the orchestra, I already waxed lyrical about that in a blog for the Festival Of Voice so I won’t repeat myself! I’m a fan of Laura Veirs, particularly of her song “Spelunking”, American for potholing. It’s the kind of song that you don’t want to listen to too many times lest you wear out it’s golden tentacles. Gwenno’s show Edrica sounds really compelling and I like her experimentalism. The Gentle Good and The Mavron Quartet should be wonderful, I have a lot of regard for Gareth Bonello’s cascading music and for his tender songs. Last but not least, I’m really excited about the Rajasthani musicians who are playing as part of the collaboration with the Jodhpur RIFF Festival which I’ve always wanted to go to.
(Mathilde) Gruff Rhys and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales because he is such a genuine artist and Utopia, Charlotte Church’s curated night. And A Filetta, A Filetta and A Filetta! You have no idea how long I have been listening to them, my whole production of Caligula was based on Corsican polyphonic music, particularly their music, I am so grateful they are coming.
Wednesday 6 – Sunday 10 June, various times
Enfys Studio, Portmanmoor Road
029 2063 6464
Highway One trailer:
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Gary Raymond heads to the Festival of Voice at Cardiff’s Millennium Centre to review Highway One, a WMC and August 012 co-production.