‘Responding to reality is not a choice’

Dancer Rebecca Camilleri speaks to TEODOR RELJIC about Thirst – an upcoming performance that encompasses a wide sway of research and geographical locations, and even touches upon Malta’s increasing urban uglification

Rebecca Camilleri: “I am not sure when I will return to Malta, but I will take the rock with me. No one will build on my piece of land”. Photo by Letta Shtohryn
Rebecca Camilleri: “I am not sure when I will return to Malta, but I will take the rock with me. No one will build on my piece of land”. Photo by Letta Shtohryn

Could you guide us through the process of how Thirst came about, as it seems as though it’s a long-term project with an intensive research element...?

Yes, you are right. Thirst is not simply a performance. It’s a process which involves walks, conversations, finding, losing, questions and responses towards my experience of being Maltese and not being able to connect to the rock. The exploration started last year. I had been living in Mexico and returning to the island began to create a physical sensation; a squeeze in my heart. It hurts something deep to witness my homeland being violently constructed.

How would you say this performance marks your development as a performer, and which aspects and preoccupations of your creative practice would you say are highlighted by Thirst?

I have always respected the practice and process of performance making. Since the first performances with the Rubberbodies Collective, the focus of the process was on the collaborative devising method mostly through theatre and improvisation techniques. This time, I wanted to approach the work through somatic body techniques. Somatic work is a deep body and mind self-awareness which allows one to listen, respond and listen to what you experience in the moment. I am working with and on my own body through a sensory connection between myself and the rock.

My creative practice started to form when I was studying choreography at Dartington College of Arts, UK. It was a radical shift to experience dance as an art-making process through practice, research and interdisciplinarity. Supported by Arts Council Malta – Professional Development Grant, I returned to Dartington on a Solo Lab Mentoring training programme at The School of Experiential Learning (SOEL) with somatic movement practitioner Rosalyn Maynard. It is an honour to be back and work in a rural paradise which holds a history of experimental dance experimentation, a community for the arts and progressive education.

Overdevelopment appears to be a key theme of the work... how is this manifested in the project itself, and why do you think it’s important for artists to keep responding to this reality?

Whether we are aware of it or not, we have a deep relationship to the land. In somatics we explore how our brain is weaved in a complex organised structure that enables us to engage with the land through our sensory muscular perception. This explains why changes in Malta and in the world are creating a sense of displacement, breakdowns of communities, depression, anxiety, poverty and so on.

An artist is sensitive. Responding to reality is not a choice. Life is integrated with my practice and process and right now I am experiencing life with a thirst for the feeling of home.

The project so far includes an inspiring collaborative dialogue with visual artist Letta Shtohryn, a beast, a goddess of the rock and fresh sound waves by Yasmin Kuymizakis.

Given that Valletta is currently serving as European Capital of Culture, what hopes and ambitions do you have for this title?

I have mixed feelings being in Valletta during this eventful year. I appreciate how the artistic and cultural opportunities have increased and this has resulted in many artists developing their skills and experience through collaborative exchanges locally and worldwide. It is also very exciting for me to come back to Malta and discover a vibrant community of artists which is growing on the island. I was delighted to see some great work by the electronic duo Traskurat, the enlightening Malta Sound Women Network and masterful street theatre by Teatru Triptiku.

On the other hand, I am concerned by the sustainability of the creative economy. I am not interested in Valletta being a one year capital of culture, but in a community which is living and evolving through its own creative activity.

Art is a rich resource to reconstruct ways of thinking, apply ideas for a widening educational vision, create social responsibility and testing approaches to development heritage industries. I do not feel that this is being fully addressed. It is easier to blind society by the illuminating lights of spectacle when the environmental monster is breaking down our social and natural bonds.

I hope that I will still be able to smell the thyme and taste the salt.

What’s next for you?

I will be working alongside Yasmin Kuymizakis presenting the developing process of Thirst. Following that I will go to Amsterdam to collaborate with Ira Melkonyan, my fellow Rubberbodies colleague who is working on performative liquids. In March, I will return to Mexico to continue developing Thirst and my practice. I am not sure when I will return to Malta, but I will take the rock with me. No one will build on my piece of land.

Thirst will be staged at Spazju Kreattiv at St James Cavalier, Valletta on February 15 at 20:00. Entrance is free on a first-come, first-served basis. The project is supported by Arts Council Malta – Professional Development Grant