We have always been and will always be fascinated by water. It fills us and gives us life but can destroy us and all we love, so it’s no surprise that many of our myths revolve around water or the creatures that dwell within. Harpist Sarah Pagé explored many of these myths back in 2014 in collaboration with Ukrainian-Russian choreographer Nika Stein and during the lockdowns of more recent years used the time to revisit and rework the project that she had found so compelling. The result is Voda, a suite of nine lengthy pieces accompanied by twelve compelling art pieces by Elena Miroshnichenko.
As well as her harp, Pagé uses an expanded palette of instruments, both bowed and plucked, evident right from the moment we plunge into the first track, “Vers les Abîmes”. We hang suspended above the dark abyss, unsure of what lurks below us, shapes moving eerily around the gloom, until about two thirds of the way through the track when Pagé’s harp enters for the third time. The sinister character falls away as if we are suddenly surrounded by beautiful, vibrant shoals of life, though this too disappears as we continue our descent into the abyss.
Under the surface we have close encounters with several creatures. In “Rousalka” we’re confronted with a half-life, a figure from Slavic folklore, a feminine entity who lives on after drowning, sometimes luring others to their deaths. Stein contributes disturbing vocals to the track, the poem for which is included in the art prints. We also encounter life, though in forms quite different to our own: in “Meduses” it’s the gentle elegance of the jellyfish, its slow drifting movements captured wonderfully by long bowed strings. In “Danse des Serpents” the strings are plucked, the movements more sudden, occasionally trembling.
At the centre of the album lies a paradox. “Premieres pas au Marécage” (first steps from the swamp), depicts our ancestors’ emergence from water. Pagé treats it with dignity, rendering it a quiet beauty. But how is it that we can no longer survive in the element that gave—and still gives—us life? Pagé does not have answers but she is a wonderful guide. Her ability to portray beauty and danger in turn and at times together is extraordinary. (Garreth Brooke)