#4 Stellaire

Theatre ( Projection, Miniature, Animation ) The Pit, Barbican

Barbican LIMF


Live video animation, miniature storytelling with practical special effects, a Gondry-esque mini-spectacle about a road-trip in space.

Romain Bermond and Jean-Baptiste Maillet met while playing in a brass band together. They realised there wasn't much of a living playing in a brass band, so they decided to try their hands at a theatrical show. They holed up for eight months in a tiny apartment devising their own show, and through some friends eventually got a chance to show their work in a big top. Fifteen years later, they are back at LIMF with their fifth show Stellaire.

Stellaire is a two-hander, a live produced mixed-video animation spectacle that uses a big screen, several cameras, and various practical and layer effects to tell a story. There's miniature play, evoking memories of Kiss&Cry. There's sand drawing, reminiscent of the work of sand artist Irina Titova. There's watercolour sketching and ink-water effects and creative uses of lamps and light sources. As the glue between scenes, there's some computer graphics as well.

Indeed, there's a bit too much going on for a show that already invites divided attention. Between the screen and the careful live art and music-making happening on the sides, there's quite a lot to take in. With such a variety of techniques, the overall effect is sadly one of a mishmash. At the same time the most impressive, coherent things were pre-rendered, which invites the question of why is any of it done live? An independent director might have led the creative duo to something a bit more coherent.

In any case, if you've never seen anything like this, you'll surely be mesmerised by the flurry of activity and the meta-drama of live production. But for me, having seen similar things before, the effect was sharply diminished. Perhaps it's harder to suspend disbelief, when you see how the special effects are done, and have witnessed the results before.

Mr Bermond does most of the visuals and projections, with Mr Maillet in charge of the score, lots of live loops again. The two combine on occasion as well, when there's more to render on screen. Rhythm is important for both, the rhythm of the show. The whole spectacle is meticulously rehearsed and precisely timed. Not much room for improvising, though the live dimension of the presentation does add an element of variety.

Stellaire is a show about life in the universe. The space theme, the universe and the solar system, is explored in a brief lecture primer, featuring some family friendly astrophysics. We meet the Sun and the planetary neighbourhood. There's a party at the bottom of a black hole, and we are all invited. Back on Earth we watch a Gondry-esque romance blossom and take spaceflight. An abrupt tonal shift links nuclear apocalypse with the violent, primordial, early universe. Ultimately Stellaire offers a cosmic perspective on life and death, all in a few strokes of the brush.

In the Q&A, the creative pair talked about their practice in French, translated first in English and then to BSL.

Over the years, in their own words, they have built a creative storytelling tool for themselves. The material they work with gives them ideas. It's very much a tool driven creative process. Painting, sculpture, mixed media — whatever it takes. The show is made anew every night.

Images make stories, stories make images. They have devised the show themselves, planning it all out carefully, piecing things together from story fragments. They start with an idea, sketch it out, and score. They work tableau by tableau, scene by scene, and then just practice, practice, practice.

There's four cameras and a mixing table on stage. Mixing happens live on stage. Light design is an important part of the show, as the lamps and their use requires choreography. Everything is carefully designed and executed.

The original idea for this story was a road movie done to a guitar score. But then at the end of their fourth show they met some astrophysicists, who suggested making a space story. Working with this prompt, they soon had a much better story, and they threw out most of the road movie concept.

Question from the audience asked for advice for a long-term creative partnership. The two had playful answers: it's better to be bald and bold, just like them. They also had an insightful music analogy: When two musicians sound like fifteen, you may be on to something. Meet lots of people, you find what you weren't looking for. It's also easier to be just two, when going out for dinner. And say no to vegetarians!

Don't reject creative ideas, accept the other person. Listen and make use of the "Yes, and..." method. It doesn't matter whose idea was the seed, the only thing that matters is what the idea becomes.