The use of a floating stage set against the backdrop of the Mediterranean gave the festival an accessible and innovative twist.
This year’s highly anticipated Malta International Arts Festival (MIAF), produced by Festivals Malta, ended on Saturday July 14. It was a festival that many believe will go down in history as one of the most innovative and yet accessible editions of this annual cultural event.
With events taking place in a diverse array of locations – from Ħaġar Qim and Valletta’s Pjazza Teatru Rjal to the purpose-built stage down at Il-Fossa in Valletta and the Fernandes sailing vessel – there was no shortage of dynamic and exciting places to discover the arts over the last two weeks.
Harbour Odyssey… a big hit
The programme was the culmination of some innovative concepts and ideas from the festival’s new artistic director, Ruben Zahra. He professes extreme satisfaction of the outcome, especially that his vision was so warmly embraced by audiences from all walks of life, whether ardent culture lovers or not. “Harbour Odyssey – a sunset tour-performance of the Grand Harbour – was a big hit with the audience, which was equally split between tourists and locals. The three shows sold out in a matter of days,” he says.
Zahra was equally enthusiastic about the ‘floating stage’ programme that saw a number of double bill-programmes unfold in seven different localities along Malta’s coastline. This strand offered a programme of free performances on the front deck of the Fernandes, while the public enjoyed it from the shore. These shows earned positive feedback on every level, from local councils to the promenade audiences themselves. “This strand certainly offered its logistical challenges for me and my team “says Zahra, “but the response made it all worthwhile.”
Ħaġar Qim supersedes expectations
In the meantime, the two events at Ħaġar Qim superseded everyone’s expectations for the vibrant contract between contemporary performing arts and the stunning visual impact of the temple. Ħaġar Qim served as a dynamic backdrop to two sold-out performances of “Temple Percussion” and “Ancient Voices”. “The festival is not just a showcase of events. MIAF presents stories and narratives. It is an opportunity for the audience to experience artistic excellence in the unique setting of a Neolithic Temple,” says Zahra.
These events were accompanied by a stimulating and colourful repertoire of music, dance and theatrical performances – from a distinctive take on Flamenco dance to a holographic theatre piece and a children’s performance inspired by the colourful life of Italian composer Luciano Berio. Then, the closing event and highlight of the festival was Aquasonic – a contemporary, ground-breaking yet completely accessible show that featured musicians and singers performing under water and that truly captivated its audience.
Local artists connect with international talent
Zahra is also very pleased that the MIAF was also an opportunity to connect local artists with international talent. This was most evident in the “M.A.D. Music & Dance” project, featuring Israeli choreographer Gil Kerer who was here on a residency programme to work with six local dancers. Similarly, “Ancient Voices” saw the collaboration between local dancer Diane Portelli (Moveo Dance Company) and Scottish musician John Kenny.