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100 different stories

This year, three EMBL fellows were among 100 science, music and arts students gathering from all over Europe to explore the common grounds of creativity in the arts and science. Roche Continents is a unique programme of seminars, workshops, concerts and more during the world-famous Salzburg Festival. Duygu Sari, a predoctoral fellow at EMBL Grenoble, kept a diary of her experiences of drumming, drama, dancing and discovery.

Drumming up enthusiasm for art and science. PHOTO: © F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd, all rights reserved

Day 1: A warm welcome

I wake at 3am before meeting with one of my EMBL colleagues, Paul Sauer. We have a very long journey together: 10 hours! In Salzburg, it’s raining like crazy. I have lots to do in the lab: experiments to run, papers to read and write… where am I going for a whole week? Then we arrive and my concerns melt away. The first warm welcome is from the Roche Continents crew. The event photographer advises us to “smile, to make our very first moments unforgettable”. We never stop smiling; he never stops taking pictures.

Finally, we meet each other: 100 young people from all over the world, all art and science lovers. We are all syllables with different sounds in the same song – what amazing harmony Roche Continents creates. After dinner, we meet the full organising team, and get our first indication of the busy five days ahead.

Day 2: Roche: A big family

We learn how Roche evolved into a cornerstone of big pharma, and that art has an important place in its history. Then, we drum! It might sound weird, but I learn how to breathe: breathing, smiling and open-mindedness are free and bring freedom. We smile, we beat; we breathe, we beat; we hug; we beat. In the end, music and freedom are all around us.

We smile, we beat; we breathe, we beat; we hug; we beat.

After lunch, we travel back in time to see how classical music has changed within our fast-changing world. Then, all dressed up, we attend our first event of the Salzburg Festival: a concert by the Gringolts Quartet (and friends).

Day 3: Moving performances

Theoretical chemist David Glowacki presents a great example of how science and art combine. His multi-award winning project, ‘Danceroom Spectroscopy’, transforms people into energy fields, allowing dancers to influence graphics and sound using their movement. The outcome is incredibly visual. I’d heard of Glowacki’s recent attempt to ‘crowd-surf’ during a performance of Handel’s Messiah – it’s fascinating to hear the real story behind the headlines.

Tonight, a poignant opera from renowned French composer Marc André Dalbavie, who transformed into music the life and art of jewish painter Charlotte Salomon during World War II. We meet with Salzburg Festival President Helga Rabl-Stadler, the conductor, and main actress. I learn how organised and disciplined an artist’s life must be. They, too, must overcome difficulties and solve challenges: “Scheitern, Scheitern und scheitern besser!” (Fail, fail and fail better!) says Rabl-Stadler.

Creating 'Danceroom spectroscopy'. PHOTO: © F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd, all rights reserved
Creating ‘Danceroom spectroscopy’. PHOTO: © F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd, all rights reserved

Day 4: Teamwork and creativity

Today we start working in teams to create something related to three random keywords: ‘heart’, ‘knife’,‘forest’. For inspiration, we tour behind the scenes at the Festspielhäuser. Backstage area, painting studios, equipment rooms… the stage is just a small part of the whole. We return from a free afternoon to attend a lecture, listed in the schedule as The Art of Quantum Molecular Dynamics. It sounds a little tedious, but we’re in for another surprise: it’s our chance to be on stage, creating Danceroom Spectroscopy with our own energy fields!

Day 5: Brainstorming

‘Heart’, ‘knife’, ‘forest’…what can we do? We’re eight people with strong and dominant characters – yes, we disagree a bit. In the end, we decide to prepare a short sketch: a present-day version of Red Riding Hood. I will be Red Riding Hood for the first time since kindergarten.

Tonight, contemporary music in a beautiful church. It reminds me of a horror movie soundtrack: strange noises come from many different angles. I sit next to the priest, and an editor who introduces me to this style of music – to be respectful, I feign enjoyment. But afterwards we meet the composer, and his explanation and efforts to define new music tastes help to persuade me of its merits.

Duygu (back row, second from left), joined science, music and arts students from across Europe. PHOTO: © F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd, all rights reserved
Duygu (back row, second from left), joined science, music and arts students from across Europe. PHOTO: © F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd, all rights reserved

Day 6: Let the show begin

We wake early to work on the Red Riding Hood script. We will end with a dance routine, following the same choreography, stepping together in time. As we practise, we are becoming not eight individuals, but one. A final rehearsal and everything is ready. The teams are ready to rock! All the groups are amazing. One-hundred people having fun together: we play games like little kids, we make and hear incredible music, we dance.

We gather for the last time for a very special apéritif with former Roche Chairman Franz Humer, before going to watch The Forbidden Zone, a ‘live cinema’ drama about women’s role in science and war in the first half of the twentieth century. The format is something I’ve never experienced before: we watch the movie on the screen, complete with special effects, while simultaenously seeing how it is recorded. The loud and lengthy applause is well deserved.

In the Roche Continents welcome, we were told we’d see the change in ourselves in just one week. I am not afraid to fail any more: failure is necessary. Instead of getting angry with myself when I do something wrong, I forgive myself – I can’t know everything. As a Roche Continents alumni, alongside offers for arts events all over the world, I will always be a proud member of a very special family. It’s difficult to say good-bye, but having the opportunity to be part of Roche Continents and meet all these valuable people makes me smile all the way back to Grenoble.

Tags: Grenoble, PhD, Science and Society

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