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Culture’s upcoming quċċija

As the ŻiguŻajg International Arts Festival celebrates its first birthday, Jo Caruana takes a look at what’s on offer this year and discovers a brilliant selection for all ages – with some shows making the trip over from far and wide.

Anyone who attended last year’s ŻiguŻajg International Arts Festival will recall the brilliant atmosphere that enveloped our capital throughout it. Live theatre took place round every corner, vibrant music filled the air and happy families explored – beguiled by the sheer brilliance of what was on offer.

“The festival programme boasts a rich variety of Maltese and international productions designed for young audiences, including specially commissioned works,” explains festival director Toni Attard.

“All aspects come together to make it a truly exhilarating and unforgettable experience for all involved.

“And this year, ŻiguŻajg is proposing no fewer than 24 productions, all brought to us by some of the best artists on the Maltese scene, as well as performers from Australia, the UK, Italy, Germany, France, Holland and Portugal.”

Among international performances is The Cloud Man, a show about a man who lives in the sky. Produced by Britons Lewis Hetherington and Ailie Cohen, the show has already toured the UK extensively, including the Imaginate Festival in Scotland and the Edinburgh Festival in 2011, as well as Dubai and Northern Ireland.

“When we were coming up with ideas, we became really intrigued by this calm character who lived a quiet, peaceful life in the clouds, and wondered what he would make of the busy, noisy lives we sometimes live down on Earth,” explains Hetherington.

“We thought it would be interesting to create a character who was desperate to find a cloud man and prove to the world that they really exist, so we developed a scientist who devotes her life to finding one. When she does find him, she has to make difficult choices and learn: is it better to capture something or let it be free?”

Explaining that the show is aimed at four- to seven-year-olds and their families, Hetherington maintains that all ages will enjoy its different elements – the music, set, puppets, story and characters.

“We wanted everything to be beautiful and to add to the atmosphere and feel of the piece. The show has a lot of heart and a great sense of humour,” he says.

“We are absolutely thrilled to be producing it in Malta. We’ve been looking at the programme and it looks great; it’s exciting to be part of a programme that includes shows like Gecko’s The Missing and the Alvin Sputnik Show. We’re really looking forward to it!”

As a team, Hetherington says The Cloud Man group are big believers in the importance of both going to big, exciting festivals and taking the show to tiny villages in the middle of nowhere.

“It’s important to have your work seen on an international platform, but also by people outside the theatre-making industry,” he says.

“In terms of sustainability, I think its partly about making sure that theatre is woven into people’s lives, and that it happens in and around existing buildings in a community, so people don’t always feel they have to travel, or feel they are going into an unfamiliar space.

“Young people absolutely must engage in cultural events; this gives them space to reflect on the world they live in, to offer them a chance to listen and watch in an engaged way, to fire imaginations, to foster creativity and to encourage them to reimagine the world they live in. I hope The Cloud Man, and everything else, helps them to do just that.”

Meanwhile, another performance set to engage young viewers is the Frog Prince, a show produced by German Sebastian Putz, which has already toured in its home country.

“It is a very funny story,” he says. “It’s all about a frog who wants to go back to being a prince, accompanied by his valet, who has served him for all eternity. Together they’ve tried everything, magic included, to get him to turn back into a prince, but they’re out of luck. Finally, a little princess appears and kisses him – and now the boot is on the other foot and the story can go on.”

As Putz, a puppeteer, explains, the story is all about loyalty, confidence and the friendship between the prince and his valet, as well as the love story that revolves around a promise that must be kept.

“I think it’s a comedy with some serious substance and that it will appeal to all sorts of people. Sometimes a good story can really get you thinking so that you can laugh, weep and clear your head. This show is all about that.”

This year, ŻiguŻajg venues include St James Cavalier, Auberge de Castille, the National Library, the Manoel Theatre, the Italian Cultural Institute, the Mediterranean Conference Centre and the Mediterranean Institue Theatre Programme in St Paul Street, Valletta. Meanwhile, St George’s Square will host Frulli Frilli, a walk-through experience inspired by the popular Maltese book Il-Każ Kważi Kollu tal-Aħwa De Molizz, while a celebratory puppet parade will animate Republic Street on the last day of the festival.

This final foray will bring together youth groups, professional dancers and musicians to creatively mark Valletta’s European Capital of Culture title in 2018.

Tickets for the ŻiguŻajg Festival, to be held from November 19 to 25, are free but subject to booking via the festival’s website. Tickets can be collected from St James Cavalier Centre for Creativity in Castille Square, Valletta.

www.ziguzajg.org

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