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‘Cormoran Song’: Angela Sofia Sterzer (France) and Mangka (Manipur/India)


On Saturday 7 November, “Cormoran Song”, performed by Angela Sofia Sterzer (France) and Mangka (Manipur/India), will be released on YouTube, accompanied by Mangangsana Mayanglambam.

By Par Angela Sofia Sterzer

This song is a Franco-Indian creation. Two women, two voices interlaced, each one remaining true to herself. A project between Imphal and Paris, between India and France.

The two voices are accompanied by a pena, a traditional single string fiddle instrument of Manipur. Three artists who have known each other for a long time express themselves with an understanding as magical as it is profound. A human and artistic experience abolishing time and space.

Let me tell you the story of the creation of the Cormoran Song. It all starts with the warm welcome in Manipur, the land of jewels, my source of inspiration, with human beings who have become very dear to my heart and with whom I have been able to create eternal bonds.

For a very long time I have been fascinated by cormorants, those birds sitting on a black cliff, surrounded by the sea, wild or calm, with or without mist, visible or invisible… It was always there, every time I returned to the Atlantic coast, as it was thirty years ago, when there was only the old aunt Augustine and the mist in that mysterious place pointing the waves breaking on the rock.

One day, I took a walk with my son along the coast of Finistère. As we walked around, we composed the text, with puns coming out of the mouth of a child in primary school who sings and invents verses with me around a Cormorant: “in the sea, he catches the fish, spreads his wings on the horizon”.  They “exist” – or not. And “the shark will go out to hunt him. The fish went faster… He doesn’t exist, he exists anyway!” With, each time, the refrain that sends the “cormorant flying over the clouds… floating over the clouds…”.

This cormorant which skims the sea within sight without touching it and then goes off into the vastness of the Atlantic. The mother and her child reflect on the existence or non-existence of life and nature…

For me, this song is a poetry that links like other musical compositions to my choreographic work. Beyond a visceral, almost archaic aspect of this bird, the cormorant, an often solitary being, represents for me both solitude and at the same time an interconnection of nature, including these species (“Wesen” in German), with us. Everything is interconnected.

I am a choreographer, dancer, singer, currently in artistic residency at the Cave Saint Paul in Paris.  It is important to underline that singing has always been an integral part of my art. When I founded my company La Danse Qui Chante (literally “The Singing Dance”), singing already had a large place in the choreographies and I created shows based on a concept I called “mise en danse chantée” (literally “bring the singing into the dance”).

Afterwards, everything accelerated. Since 2010, I have been studying Manipuri popular songs with Subhadra Laimayum. Two years later, we decided with Manju Elangbam to definitely include songs in the Manipuri dance performances. It became our speciality, a capella. The creations danced and sung in Manipur, for example by the Laihui Ensemble as well as in the Bhangi Achoaba Pareng – which is sung and danced by Gopis – were a great surprise for me, because this is what I had been doing in my own pieces since 1996, dancing and singing.

As a Manipuri dancer, I gained artistic recognition after long years of perseverance and working with magnificent masters. In 2017, I was recognized by the International Council of Cultural Reations (ICCR). Just before, sent by the EHESS, I had decided to write my dissertation on aspects of popular songs of the Meitheis, with a research around the Khullang Esheis, the responsorial songs of Manipur.

In 2015, I had the chance to meet Mangka Mayanglambam and Mangangsana Mayanglambam, two famous artists and singers in Manipur, and work with them on singing techniques. This meeting was made possible thanks to Manju Elangbam, my long-time partner in dance, choreography, teaching and scientific research.

Once back in Paris, I tried to put the word “cormorant” on the voice projection technique of the Khullang Esheis, the long sounds that pierce the valleys or the Loktak Lake. And it worked! I then sent the recording to Mangangsana who was fascinated by the idea of composing a song together. Then I sent my watercolour painting of the cormorant and the first movements, minimalist, to make them understand the atmosphere.

In November 2019, I arrived in Imphal with the texts and we met up to improvise together, Mangka and I, for an afternoon, each with her own background.

During the second rehearsal ten days later, the three of us decided to include the spoken-sung technique, the Khullang Esheis aspect. On the other hand, unlike Khullang Esheis, in “Cormoran Song”, the lyrics don’t change!

This song was part of the choreography Aooba Aoodaba (Visible/Invisible) created in 2019 in Paris. Already before my stay in Imphal, I had decided to dance on the recording (thanks to Mr. Loitongbam Sunil from the Hayam Lab Imphal) and not to sing it live. In the video (thanks to Eric Wild, Paris), the two voices of two women, accompanied by the pena, come from far away. And I walk between the two voices of two worlds. The dance enters the universe of Manipuri and contemporary dance, paintings of the sea, the veils, inaphis, chosen with Supriya and Hemrajit at the Ima Market, the women’s market in Imphal. At the end, I sit next to the musician Alan James Ball, who can be seen in the half-light, and my son who was turning the pages of the scores.

The circle is closed and we listened together to the mystery of this bird and our love for the beauty of nature and living species.

I am very happy to have met around this song and I hope that the audience will appreciate it. I hope that the coronavirus leaves soon or that we adapt to the situation, so that I can return to Manipur as soon as possible. 

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