MALTA FESTIVAL POZNAŃ – short history
How to combine huge concerts of international stars with experimental shows, small projects in the city space, round-the-clock life of the festival club and discussions with philosophers, sociologists and literary scholars? Fusion of these elements is the distinctive feature of Malta, which for more than 20 years has been a melting pot of traditions, themes and forms. The common element of various narrations is the desire to understand the modern world through art. This is why we make this festival.
International Theatre Festival Malta was established in 1991 in a city regarded as pragmatic, oriented towards investment and economic development, with a high standard of living of its inhabitants. A project, which is now a mature cultural event associated specifically with Poznań, originated and developed step by step in such - by no means obvious - context.
In the first years of Malta’s existence, the grounds around the rowing course and Malta Lake itself (from which the festival derives its name) saw colourful marches and stage adaptations full of panache, performed by theatre groups from all around the world. Markets, streets and squares were also turned into an acting area with small, spontaneous actions involving random passers-by taking place there. The artistic activities during the festival made Poznań resemble a great outdoor stage powered with the energy of the crowds and invited artists - circus artists, dancers and performers. A significant element of the programme, which made it locally-rooted, was the permanent presence of Poznań artists from non-institutionalized theatre, including Teatr Ósmego Dnia, Teatr Strefa Ciszy, Teatr Biuro Podróży, Usta Usta or Porywacze Ciał as well as the presentation of important independent groups from Poland, including Scena Plastyczna of KUL, Komuna Otwock or Akademia Ruchu. Thanks to Malta, on a few summer days the audience had a chance to come into contact with a seeking, bold theatre facing the present reality. Outdoor projects accessible to every audience member - also the one who is not interested in theatre itself, but rather in belonging to a community - created a space for free expression and built significant collective experience.
The character of the festival in 1990s, its energy and programme coincided with socio-political transformations that took place in Poland after the year 1989. Malta has its roots in change, building social relations from scratch, democracy and opening to the world. After several years of developing the programme format, it become one of the most important summer cultural events in Poland and a street theatre festival which is gaining recognition in this part of Europe.
Not only theatre
Malta’s next decade revolved around its intense development of programme and search for new areas for theatrical activities. Apart from the colourful outdoor shows arousing enthusiasm, Poznan started to host the most prominent artists defining new theatrical languages. Malta was indeed the first place in Poland where the shows of such artists as Pippo Del Bono and Romeo Castellucci were presented. They remain an important reference point for the next generations of audience. In addition to theatre, Malta introduced to its programme also other domains without which it would be difficult to imagine contemporary culture. The festival was becoming an ever bigger, multifaceted event. Besides shows in the city space, the programme encompassed dance, music, film and a competition for young artists. Malta responded to both the changing socio-cultural reality and the position of theatre itself. The divisions into institutional and independent, experimental and popular theatre ceased to be clear-cut and explicit. Thus, the programme presented projects representing different aesthetic forms, traditions and orders, going beyond the framework of a traditional stage and theatrical event. In an increasingly bold manner, the festival started to appear in post-industrial and public buildings and penetrate the tissue of the city; only selected parts of the programme took place by Malta Lake.
Dance was gaining an increasingly important place in the programme. It had been its permanent element appearing in the city public space but its significance grew substantially due to the project Old Brewery New Dance by Art Stations Foundation. Since 2006 Malta has continuously hosted the most important choreographers and dancers from all over the world. As part of the Old Brewery New Dance section, such artists as Yvonne Reiner, Boris Charmatz, Xavier Le Roy or Raimund Hoghe presented their shows.
Owing to the diversified programme and presentation of projects of various range, the expectations of audience were changing too. More and more distinctly, outdoor concerts started to serve the role of events gathering thousands of people, uniting them in a shared artistic experience. They quickly become the characteristic mark of Malta, making it “the most theatrical out of music festivals and the most musical out of theatre festivals”. World-class musicians, such as Goran Bregovic Ensemble, Buena Vista Social Club, Leningrad Cowboys, Orchestra Baobab, Devendra Banhart, Antony & The Johnsons, Coco Rosie and Animal Collective / USA („Americana at Malta”), Elvis Castello & The Imposter, Beirut or Nine Inch Nails performed by Malta Lake, at the Castle Courtyard or Poznań International Fair.
In the second decade of its existence Malta focused also on supporting debut projects and seeking novel outlooks on performativity. Since 2007 the New Situations section has been presenting first-night projects of young Polish artists working in site specific locations, spreading around the city and interacting with audience. These interventions have a one-place character and are not as spectacular as big outdoor productions. However, they attempt to draw attention to important, though indiscernible, phenomena, showing cracks in the tissue of reality. As formal experiments which often go beyond artistic phenomena, they become social events of importance to the local audience. A significant element of the festival’s opening to experiment and an attempt to define the complexity of contemporary theatrical experience was also the creation of a space for discussions and workshops (Malta Archipelago), which featured debates and meetings with artists, critics and theoreticians.
Festival / world
Melting pot, municipal character, combination of motifs and forms, cooperation with local communities, city as a theme for art, multidisciplinarity - these are the values continuously present at Malta, making up its philosophy. Malta’s special quality is also its openness to change and vigilant examination of its own mission. On the 20th anniversary of the festival’s existence, the structure of its programme was again given a new shape. Malta entered the third decade of its existence with a new name too - Malta Festival Poznań (previously: International Theatre Festival MALTA). A central theme of every edition - Idiom - emerged from the interdisciplinary programme. It deals with contemporary issues of social and cultural life.
Idioms are an experimental project which takes into consideration Malta’s tradition and specific character. The trend originated from the need to find in the festival an area for search, a laboratory so to say, allowing the description of violent changes of the world that surrounds us. For years Malta has successively and consciously been losing the adjective “theatrical” and attracting with the diversity of art manifestations, assuming that such an approach presents the world more holistically, treating at the same time the spectator-observer as an equal partner in dialogue.
The objective of every Idiom is to familiarize the audience with and engage it in especially important themes and phenomena of contemporary culture that require particular attention and complex presentation. In 2010 a broad presentation of the Flemish theatre and dance took place as part of the Idiom: Flanders. For almost thirty years, they have been strongly affecting European performative arts, educating the next generations of artists who cross the borders between disciplines and constantly undermine the outdated patterns and traditions in order to look for new themes, modes of expression and formal solutions. Flemish theatre, continuously engaging in a debate with dominant narratives (which define identity, suggest new ideologies and set boundaries), is a perfect synthesis of the core premise of every Idiom’s programme - a multilayered analysis of the title theme and its presentation from a non-self-evident and non-stereotypical angle. In 2011 the Idiom: Excluded deliberated on the position of a human being in the world that is, on the one hand, overcrowded and suffering from privation, while on the other, marks individual human existence with loneliness and growing isolation. Exclusion was understood as the spirit of the time, permeating many areas - social, economic, political and existential. The leitmotiv of the Idiom 2012 were mutual relations between Europe and Asia. Under the catchphrase “Akcje Azjatyckie/Asian Investments” several projects took place which documented economic, historical and human relations binding the inhabitants of the two continents. Artists were asking if in the globalized world of capital, power and ideology flow there is a place for otherness, foreignness and individual perspective. In 2013 as part of the Idiom: oh man, oh machine / człowiek-maszyna invited artists analyse ambiguous links between the human being and state-of-the-art technologies, which become ever closer, increasingly affecting human life, death and the future of the world which we live in. A supplementary part of every Idiom is a two-day Forum which ponders the main themes of the festival, building an intellectual context for the presented art projects. Every year invited speakers include journalists, philosophers, sociologists, literary scholars, critics and artists. The recapitulation of the Forum are book publications - the documentation of the intellectual dimension of the whole Idiom.
In addition to the thematic trend, music stage, dance shows, New Situations and local theatres’ performances, Malta defines anew its role in the city - regarded as an agora, space for dialogue, open meeting and exchange of experiences. As part of the project Malta Generator: People/City/Culture in the heart of the city - a platform for creativity, exchange of ideas, art and fun, and mostly for cooperation is created in Wolności Square. Besides the music stage and Silent Malta, the Generator will also encompass a healthy eating habits zone, creativity workshops, a playground, performative stage and an area for active leisure activities. The Generator – an area for creative activities will operate until 20th July, making Malta Festival Poznań 2013 the longest edition of the festival in its history.
The Generator and its programme - deriving from the idea of culture understood as cultivation (Latin: cultus agri), being and creating together - is also an important gesture indicating the need of positive evaluation of “festivalisation” of culture and life. If a festival remains a holiday, combines different art forms, maintains an open attitude towards the audience and artists who are ready for dialogue and constant forming of new communities, than it is still worth to think of it as an vital and needed manifestation of creativity and meaning in the world.
To see and to know
Malta is not only a few-day-long festival. We strive to complement and continue the themes, characters and ideas from the programme in a discursive form. Hence, since 2010 we have been consistently conducting publishing activities. In cooperation with ha!art as part of “Linia teatralna” we published the Polish language versions of books presenting the output of artists who are exceptionally important for the European theatre - Jan Fabre, Christoph Schlingensief and Rimini Protokoll. Amongst the published titles, there are books connected to special events: 20th edition of the festival, jubilee of Lech Raczek ("Plac Wolności i inne scenariusze teatralne 1982-2010”), world premiere of the opera "Slow Man" by Nicholas Lens/J.M. ("Wyostrzyć wzrok. J.M. Coetzee: sztuka, świat i polityka”) and a publication recapitulating the Forum ("Polityka wyobraźni – scena flamandzka" and "Wykluczeni. Między estetyką a etyką"). Furthermore, Malta organizes public meetings introducing the festival themes and cooperates with the Faculty of Theatre Studies of Adam Mickiewicz University and with the University of Arts.
Festival in network
Although since its inception Malta had an international character, in the last years the cooperation with artists and theatre centres from Europe has an increasingly deep dimension. The festival co-produces many shows with both outstanding Polish and European artists as well as rising stars in the realm of theatre and dance. The most important co-productions in the last years include: "La menzogna" by Compagna Pippo Del Bono (2009), "Prometheus Landscape II" directed by Jan Fabre (2011), "33 Rounds and Few Seconds" by Rabih Mroue & Lina Saneh (2012) or "Hańba" directed by Kornel Mundruczó. Malta initiates unique projects, which go down in history. They undoubtedly include the opera “Slow Man” with the music by Nicholas Lens and a libretto by the Nobel Prize winner, John Maxwell Coetzee. The premiere of this piece, directed by Maja Kleczewska, took place during Malta Festival Poznan 2012.
Malta’s international cooperation means not only constant presentation of the most interesting artists to the Polish audience but also keeping a permanent contact with what is happening in the neighbouring countries, themes that intrigue artists and audience. Therefore, since 2012 Malta Festival Poznań has been the member of the network House on Fire. HoF is a five-year-long project of cooperation between ten European cultural institutions. The chief objective of the House of Fire is the support of artists who through their art take a stance in the public debate on current social, cultural and economic problems troubling European communities. The members of HoF are: LIFT (London), HAU (Berlin), Kaaitheater (Brussels), BRUT (Vienna), Archa Theatre (Prague), Teatro Maria Matos (Lisbon), Frascati (Amsterdam), Malta Festival (Poznań), Théâtre Garonne (Toulouse), BIT (Bergen). House of Fire is co-financed by the European Union from the Culture programme.
Being sensitive to the transformations of the reality that surrounds us is the unchanging quality of Malta. Its programme and character underwent changes in the course of the years, but the overriding aim remained to present to the audience the artists who in that particular moment created significant, original and captivating works. Every year their circle was getting wider and theatre was joined by other domains of art. The rhythm of Malta’s transformations is always determined by the changing spirit of the times.