A banquet for theatre

A banquet for theatre

Photo: Marija Grech

Photo: Marija Grech

Teatru Malta’s latest oeuvre, L-Ikla t-Tajba is a site-specific production that promises to bring together our infamous love of food with interactive theatre. Adam Brimmer interviews two of the main performers, Ira Melkonyan and Rebecca Camilleri.

When you first learnt about the concept behind L-Ikla t-Tajba, what was your reaction?

Ira: I was very intrigued by director Nona Ciubanu’s interpretations and interconnections between subjects of food, poetry, sensuality, class, privilege, consumption and other political aspects. I was truly inspired by how she opened up the ritual of eating together; I usually go through a similar thought process when I start working on a performance.

Rebecca: I was mostly lured into this project because it is a site-specific piece. I wanted to work with the land, sea and salt. That is also food for me. It nourishes me in other ways. Nona is doing that, but she is also layering the piece with other elements which I did not expect.

You are both part of The Rubberbodies Collective, which is known for pushing the envelope and, moreover, you both came back to Malta specifically to be part of this. What was it that made you want to be part of the project?

Ira: For me it coincided with an already-planned summer trip to Malta; I had some free time, the group of colleagues from the Maltese theatre scene sounded very promising and pleasant, the works that I found online of the director also appealed to me. It is worth noting that this is not a Rubberbodies Collective production – we were employed as individual actors, so it felt inspiring to encounter each other in a different role in a creative process.

Rebecca: Since living on another continent, I have discovered more about my connection to Malta and the community. To experience this part of myself through a performance making process makes it much more enriching. I was also curious about working through another director’s vision and process and also with a large of cast of performers who have their own projects locally.

L-Ikla t-Tajba is described as an ‘interactive’ experience – how much of it is scripted and how much will be spontaneous?

Ira: We are still working on the performance, so I can’t be precise. Yet, my impression is that the performance will have a fixed ‘skeleton’ – an order and essence of scenes, and there will also be space for the performers to improvise, make the structure more colourful and full in the moment.

Rebecca: We have been improvising individually and collectively and sharing stories. Nona has been knitting the material generated. In performance, and more so in site-specific work, even if there is script/ structure, there is still a strong element of surprise and that is what makes the work alive and enticing.

There is still a strong element of surprise and that is what makes the work alive and enticing

What has the creative process and rehearsals been like?

Ira: Nona carried out extensive research on a Frenchman with the family name Grimaud. He wrote extensively on gourmet food and etiquette of eating. Also, she has interwoven this story with Greek mythology of Ulysses, Penelope, Calypso and others.

Rehearsals are organised around her taking us into this narrative structure that she has compiled and our improvisations on the proposed scenes with masks and objects. Another big part of the process are readings of poems by Immanuel Mifsud. This layer brings a very beautiful and unexpected poetic interpretation to the material; interweaving Immanuel’s works with the ongoing character development is one of my personal favourites in the process.

Rebecca: All these elements which Ira mentioned are being incorporated in different bodies. My body is being extended through a mask which I sometimes wear. Other times, I become part of a larger body like a creature of another world. We dive into and out of these processes in the studio. When we go on site, Xwejni salt pans, we restructure the material. Working with nature is very different to working in a studio. There is a presence that is much bigger than you and you have to find a way of embracing it and allowing it to be part of every movement you make.

Can you describe your role in the production?

Ira: I am part of the ensemble of 10 actors. My character is Circe, the Greek Goddess of magic. Apart from having a human form, I can take shape of a creature which is half cat, half bird.

Rebecca: I am also a performer; Calypso, a goddess with a force of seduction.

And finally – which audiences will this production appeal to?

Ira: Theatregoers, curious foreigners visiting the island, younger and mature audiences. I am confident it will be a visual, artistic and culinary delight for all tastes.

Rebecca: Anyone who needs a sprinkle of salt.

L-Ikla t-Tajba takes place on August 22 at Ta’ Xwejni Salt Pans, Gozo. Tickets are available.

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