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Collectively | Artistically

Lisa Gwen Baldacchino meets up with Rubberbodies Collective founding member Jimmy Grima as their newest performance Baħar Abjad hits St James Cavalier.

They've seduced our senses with their poignant representations of human life, behaviour and relationships... they've given us scenic tableaus which have remained impressed in our memories... they've given us a heightened taste for visuals which leaves us yearning and hungry for more...

They're the Rubberbodies Collective.

Ever since introducing themselves to the public with Grace u Rofflu in 2009, Rubberbodies has brought a sense of art, innovation and direction to theatre which seemed to be lacking.

Introducing their latest project, titled White Sea (Baħar Abjad), Jimmy Grima, founding member and artistic director, discusses the Collective's values, their approach and their process.

I ask Jimmy how he would describe their artistic output; should their projects be classified as performance art, or is it a combination of various art forms?

"Performance art usually refers to installation art which involves performers. It can be any situation that involves four basic elements: time, space, the performer's body, or presence in a medium, and a relationship between performer and audience.

"I think our work as a collective is not just that. The work of the collective is about people... it changes according to the core group working on a specific project. Dubbing our work as performance art is correct, however we are definitely a combination of various art forms. We call our performances visual-theatre. We try to portray a series of images that penetrate the viewers' unconscious and play around with their memories, thoughts and senses... I think our work is a fusion of art disciplines which together create an experience for the audience."

Rubberbodies don't follow a written script, mainly because their performances are "deprived" of words. So what makes their visual-theatre any different to a mime?

Jimmy explains: "Basically we use the technique of the film story-board to create our work. It is true that until today we did not work with text. The main reason reflects the way the collective is developing.

"During our first performance Grace u Rofflu (2009), the work was an exploration between Rebecca Grima, myself and Matthew Paldolfino. Rebecca comes from a dance background and Matthew's creations do not have the ability of speech till now."

The same goes for their second performance 100: Ave|Eva|Summer|Winter. He tells me how "It could have been easily associated with mime, as mime is defined as the acting out of a story through body motions, without use of speech.

"However I think that this classification [as a mime] is limiting on our work. We do not use text in our performances because I find text on stage limiting for what we try to achieve. When you have a dialogue on stage the focus is on the spoken word and viewers would dedicate all their energies to try and analyse those words and find associations. Usually the associations are very specific.

"The majority of people do not really like to think much and they want to go to theatre and have a laugh or see a drama about something really specific that they can relate to. We want to tickle their brains; we want our viewers to participatie in a journey through the inner-self with us.

"Our work is not entertainment. Our work emerges from our backgrounds and experiences and through an intense process of sharing, we use our methodology to create a structure in which our ideas can live."

Jimmy is often seen at the helm of the collective; as the binding agent; the catalyst; perhaps as the visionary...? But is he?

"I do have a vision, but who doesn't? But I definitely do not see myself as the master of ceremonies. This will go totally against all of our philosophy. There is only one master of ceremonies in our work and that is the performance work.

"We are together to honour the art. I conduct the work of director in the process of the performance; that is I try to make sure that there is a good rhythm and a good sense of space. I try to push performers to new boundaries and to lead the members of the collective to explore new ways of doing things. I am a pusher.

"On the other hand I have a vision for the collective itself. Where should we go next? It is very important to stress that we try and work in a parallel process from conception, to design and finally in creating the performance. There is no hierarchy; in the sense that I am not in the centre of the whole work and others are pouring in their ideas and I decide what to keep and what not... my work within the collective and within the projects of the collective is to try and find the perfect balance for all the members and patch together all the material generated.

"We never exclude any idea and everyone develops in his own way. The tough part for me is to put everything together. This is why we call ourselves a multidisciplinary artist collective. It is this multidisciplinary that makes our work so distinct."

Other distinct characteristics of the collective's performances are their "props", costumes, ambience, lighting and the inspired music to couple it all. These "inanimate" objects almost, if not actually, take on a life of their own. When the idea for a project germinates, how early/late does he "script" these into the action? Consequently, how important does this make the roles of the collaborators who are not directly seen/involved in the 'on-stage' action?

"Since day one fine-artist Matthew Pandolfino is there. The creation is carved out by all the members of the collective. The fine-artist is definitely one of them. He does not create costumes for the performers to look in character. Rather, he creates a costume so performers find their character through it. Most of the time, these creations dictate the scenes.

"We avoid creating props just to set the scene. An object has a lot of power on stage if you give it enough attention... I hate to go to the theatre and see performers drinking tea from an empty mug or gulping food from an empty bowl. We do not stage things; we try and bring them to life. Likewise, we do not create music to go with a scene; we try to fill the space with other performers, objects and in the world of Mario Sammut aka Cygna the theatre is not flat anymore but it is all around the viewer. Alive!"

For their latest performance White Sea performers Rebecca Camilleri and Ira Melkonyan "have a very difficult task of handling a 50-minute piece between the two of them. They will never leave the stage and there are nearly no blackouts.

"This work should be seen as a very long poem – not of words but of everything else."

White Sea is showing at St James Cavalier, Valletta, July 8-10.

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