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A dance of deliverance, dissonance, remembrance & regret in response to Debussy’s Sonata for Cello and Piano, Pipeworks Festival 2018: France 100.

Choreography: Justine Doswell in collaboration with Emily Kilkenny Roddy.
Dance Artist: Emily Kilkenny Roddy
Director of Photography and Editor: Luca Truffarelli
Music: Claude Debussy | Sonata for Cello and Piano in D minor (1915), recording Maurice Gendron & Jean Français (1967).
Filmed at the Dublin Unitarian Church on June 14th 2018 as part of Pipeworks Festival 2018: France 100.

June 14th Programme Notes:
The Sonata for Cello and Piano was one of the last works that Debussy wrote before his death. Demoralised with the outbreak of world war one, personal problems and his fight with colon cancer, Debussy suffered a period of writer’s block. However, influenced by the prevailing nationalist ideologies during wartime France, Debussy found a new lease of creative energy and planned a set of six sonatas. The first, which is the Sonata for Cello and Piano, was composed in 1915 and completed in just a few months. Debussy wrote “I spend nearly a year unable to write music… after that I’ve almost had to re-learn it. It was like a rediscovery and it seemed to me more beautiful than ever!”.

Debussy saw these later compositions as an affirmation of French identity, national values, and “authentic” French culture. “I want to work not so much for myself, but to give proof, however small it may be, that not even 30 million ‘boches’ can destroy French thought.” In them he provided a new signature: “Claude Debussy, musicien français”. Fifty three years old and terminally ill, Debussy’s nationalism, revolution and agency was articulated and expressed through his music. 

His obsessive nationalism (resonant today), led me to Marianne of France, the national symbol of the French Republic. A representation of the Roman Goddess Libertas dating back to the French revolution, championing freedom and democracy against all forms of oppression. She is displayed in many places in France, holding a place of honour in town halls and law courts. Her profile stands out on the official government logo of the country, is engraved on French euro coins and appears on French postage stamps. Although with such a strong feminine symbol to represent the nation, The French Union for Women's Suffrage formed in 1909, had to fight long and hard for the right of French women to vote. It was eventually granted in 1944. My grandmother was forty two at that time. I am of a similar age now, with rights I sometimes forget that I am very fortunate to have.

Interestingly there has never been an official image of Marianne, so artists are free to imagine her as they wish. Likewise, mayors are free to choose the version that suits them to grace their town halls. Historically, representations of her were anonymous; she represented every daughter of the Republic. 

The first world war killed 7 million civilians and 10 million military personnel. The death toll in France was 1,400,000. The deaths of soldiers created 700,000 widows and more than 1,000,000 orphans. Of France's total population 1 out of 20 were killed. In France, the bleuet de France is the symbol of memory for, and solidarity with, veterans, victims of war, widows, and orphans, similar to the remembrance poppy.

Pipeworks Festival 2018 is marking the centenary of the death of Claude Debussy however this year will also see the centenary of Armistice Day on November 11th 2018. My grandfather was too young to fight, his father too old, however I remember my grandfather recounting what he witnessed / experienced as a boy; the men returning, not returning, the women filling the space, taking their place and the aftermath. I would like to dedicate this evening’s dance “a nos morts” (image above) and to the people who were left behind.
Justine Doswell

Special thanks go to Emily Kilkenny Roddy for her wonderful artistry, Tina Kilkenny Roddy, Josh Johnston, Kevin Robinson at the Dublin Unitarian Church, Fergal Caulfield, Martin Johnson and Luca Truffarelli.

Image above (right to left:) Marianne, the Triumph of the Republic Place de la Nation; Eugène Delacroix’s painting Liberty Leading the People; Monument aux morts at Sillery, Marne; Charles Walhain’s Marianne, designed for French banknotes during the First and Second World Wars; Monument aux morts at Peronne, Somme.

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