Last month, Contact Dance Company, under the artistic direction of Francesca Abela Tranter, performed Diaspora during two shows. The choreography was devised in collaboration with dancers Kostas Papamathaiakis (Greece), Rochelle Gatt (Malta), Lucas Roque (Brazil), Stefania Catarinella (Italy), Elise Ellul (Malta), Moritz Zavan Stoeckle (Italy), and Blanka Fekete (Hungary) as understudy. The show was repeated at the Michael Cacoyannis Foundation Theatre in Athens.

After the second performance in Malta, a number of members in the audience share the same impression –  they feel breathless. Some have shed a tear. Somebody asks me for three words, and without thinking I say: raw, honest, exhausting.

The show of strength is intentional. It plays to the power of the score provided by Renzo Spiteri, a testament to a long working relationship between the choreographer and composer, an understanding that comes with time.

Quick breaths and sweat reveal a humanness that not all dance pieces want to reveal. It is raw and honest and, I need to add, unpretentious – and that is why it connects with its audience.

In turn, the dancers play, chase, work together, tease, compete, separate and join. They form a chain, then break it, then form it again. They bear each other as crutches, swim ashore together. They suffer and play; the ‘other’ is received, is held, be it with a gentle hand upon the elbow, or a strong lift into the air.

Dancing is thus a communicable discovery, and appreciation, of our different strengths, our various ways of touching each other’s lives.

An exploration of how audiences can experience dance as a way of fitting in

“Who doesn’t feel comfort knowing that they have things in common with the ‘other’?” says Kostas Papamathaiakis. What one medium lacks can be made up for by another. Music, text and visuals complete the picture in Diaspora. Setting the scene, or rather scenes, with Matthew Muscat Drago’s visuals that took us into the sea and into the crowds in turn.

The short video also helped us humanise the dancers. They each appear in close-up and speak to us about their experiences, their home, who they are. It sinks in that this evening we are watching a group of six dancers that are from Malta, Italy, Brazil and Greece; that this multinational group has worked towards one goal, have shared stories, long and tiring rehearsal time, and their history as dancers, to devise a piece that thoroughly depends on each one of them to give it flavour and authenticity.

This kind of work involves a lot of give and take, laughter and crying, acceptance of shortcomings, of who can do what, of what should be kept, what needs to go. The ideas need to integrate, to come together in a piece that is seamless. The gist of certain movements wasn’t always clear, nor was it clear whether it should have been understood, or whether we are witnessing it as an outsider.

Of note is Roque’s solo, a beautiful exhibition of dexterity and skillful strength, a true show of years of training and discipline that has fine-tuned this dancer to safely perform such feats.

Abela Tranter adds: “I had to be honest to the work, and I selected a mix of local and international local dancers for this reason, a diverse group with very individual unique styles, because it enriched the true meaning and identity of the creative process.”

Spiteri’s composition and Ruth Borg’s voice bring in an unmistakably Mediterranean feel that is almost primal. The heart beats and the head pounds to the same rhythms as you watch duos form into trios and break up into solos. Waves wash over stories and you’re allowed to start over and over again, and to go to different places. Spiteri certainly needs no introduction, but to encounter his music played to a show that brings these feelings to light is an altogether entrancing experience. It just matches.

Collaborating with a composer, actor and videographer to match the professionality of the dancers and the choreographer herself, demanded a harmony that should have been met with text of the same quality.

When I speak to Abela Tranter, and hear comments from the dancers, the term ‘duality’ keeps popping up. Yet I cannot help but feel that there were more than two sides to each of those individuals moving in front of me. I could see joy, fear, restraint, freedom. I could see how they were fighting through their tiredness, then suddenly get whisked away by a second wind, ignoring the sweat, the faltering breath, emerging triumphant with added strength.

Diaspora is a living animal, it is an exploration of how audiences can experience dance as a way of fitting in, of not only appreciating our differences but using them to our advantage in this flow, this narrative of our intermingling lives.

Diaspora should and must be seen. Even if it succeeds in some small way to bring to light the realities we are living, it has a place in the here and now. Abela Tranter’s work has found a way to embody the Maltese spirit: tenacious, kind, not afraid to step on toes even while helping each other to get on in life, leaning, fighting, living with passion.

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