Canaries fallen silent

Wed, Nov 16th 2011, 08:59 Last updated on 16/11/11

Carmel Serracino

Times of Malta

Theatre
Dun Karm Installation
Strada Stretta

It was somewhat ironic that the three canaries in their three cages were so still and so silent. One needed to observe each bird intently to ascertain it was a real bird and not a stuffed one. These birds, typically full of song and vitality, seemed rapt in silence listening to the poetry or watching the action inspired by the words and emotions of our national poet, Dun Karm.

"
The last room was perhaps the one which caught most attention- Carmel Serracino
"

Mutely, though by no means ineffectively, these three birds were among the participants taking part in a theatre installation led by the Rubberbodies Collective in collaboration with Mavin Khoo Dance. Like the great majority of the other activities happening around the Dun Karm theme on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the poet’s death, the installation obtained the financial support from the Ministry of Education, Employment and the Family. A string of works is scheduled for the last couple of months of the year. Ideally, these should have been spread more equally over the whole year.

Jimmy Grima, a very creative person indeed, was the mastermind behind this collaborative work. Three separate shows were held in different times during last Sunday at the Splendid venue in Strada Stretta, which Fondazzjoni Sir Temi Zammit is transforming from a crumbling Valletta edifice into a creative space full of potential for artistic endeavour.

Four performances took place in four different rooms found on the first floor of the beautiful Valletta building. Visitors could walk through, stop, linger, and return at will. Though very diverse work was enacted in each room, one did not leave with a sense of cacophony or disorientation, but rather the opposite.

In the first room, the most spacious of the lot, the highly respected actress Ninette Micallef gave a personalised account on what Dun Karm means to her, illustrating her description with examples from his poetry. She spoke about the early spell that the Dun’s poetry cast on her when still a young girl, and how the power continued to have a hold on her during adolescent and later years. Though evidently following a prepared script, the monologue was genuine in feeling and not without improvised additions. Her advice that students should be taught the love of poetry through the power of the words and the emotions evoked, rather than as a dull exercise in literary criticism, was much appreciated.

In the next room, one was accosted by the singular figure of the Malaysian-born, Malta-based dancer Mavin Khoo, bare-chested and in traditional red shalwar trousers. The dancer, whose choreography made a memorable contribution to the recently staged, classically-set Joe Friggieri play, L-Għanja taċ-Ċinju, gave a spellbinding choreographed sequence which was suggestive of the all-too human individual need to relate with other human beings at both spiritual and physical levels. Such an emotion is strongly felt in many of Dun Karm’s poetry. Mr Khoo’s performance was the only one which included physical interaction with the spectators, at least during the first show of the day under review. It was no wonder that the canary here sat totally riveted watching the unusual action. In the opposite room, the young actor Jacob Piccinino gave a visually striking and silent performance. He expressed the loneliness, intensified by bouts of depression, which unfortunately seems to be the common lot of mankind but which also particulrly hit Dun Karm during his Valletta stay, as the poetry penned at the time bears testimony. The actor performed with remarkable intensity while making effective use of mirrors, which, according to one of the lovely illustrated card-notes available to the audience as aids to the appreciation of the acts, recalled the use made by such masters as Van Eyck and Velasquez.

The last room was perhaps the one which caught the most attention. It featured a bravura performance by actor Chris Galea, who only the weekend before had left a strong impression in Theatrencore’s production of Ionesco’s Exit the King. Performing his act mainly behind a screen, which could have represented the façade of a church, or even a brothel’s paravent, and having two windows which just made the face and the legs of the actor visible, Mr Galea played about four characters in a short scene revolving around the Dun’s relationship vis-à-vis women.

At one point the actor was acting one part with his voice and another part with his legs. He managed to use his fine voice most effectively in this funny and moving take on the poet’s conflicting attitudes towards the fairer sex.

The canary in this room seemed to have flown away and no amount of beseeching whistling from the actor could make it come back.