As the excited crowd shuffles into the theatre, we are greeted by the lone figure of Gabriel Natán Velazco Robbe standing motionless on stage, exposed only by a dim light. I barely notice anything happening, being busy complaining about the depth of the seats and their incompatibility with my height, until I hear the mumbling in the auditorium start to die down. That’s when my eye catches Velazco Robbe subtly brushing the air ever so slowly with his arm. A palpable tension looms over us in the deafening silence until a single snap of the fingers finally breaks this stiffness and the other nine dancers march out as if in response to their drill sergeant’s command. We were gently lulled by the soothing seaside soundscape before the violin’s sense of urgency seeped through and the dancers gradually became more agitated. Each body on stage was in a constant state of high alert, readying itself for an imminent danger. I instantly fell in love with the sharp choreography of Anna Armato and Eszter Joo’s duet and Yasmin Falzon, Georgia Evans and Blanka Fekete’s trio of precise manipulation and intertwining within their formations. The wary rocking and agitated, staccato movement all culminated to Evans jerking frantically; her short breaths panicked and her repetitive jolts eerily manic. Avatâra Ayuso brilliantly created an unsettling sensation as 1565 builds to the final accumulation of different languages, loudly and incoherently jumbled over one another. This piece is an allusion to the climactic battle of ‘The Great Siege of Malta’ and it sets the stage for the 21st Century Identity theme of this year’s Dance Studies third year Dance Tour.
Being such an international group, the incorporation of each of their dynamic voices and accents made for a sweet melody of sounds, even if I could only understand the Maltese and English speakers. Roberto Olivan’s Takudixxi delighted us with couples’ synchronised story-telling, featuring entertaining depictions of Maltese life; like hiding in your boyfriend’s closet when his parents arrive home unexpectedly. The easygoing traffic system of the island also got an honorable mention, as well as our beloved ‘pastizzi’; badly pronounced but, still. Accompanying music for this piece, was the hauntingly beautiful composition by university music students Luke Cucciardi and Samuel Mallia that had an ominous, ethereal texture to it. Sustained flow of movement, abruptly cut by sharp and fragmented ones, colour the resonating soundscape. I was hit by an image of the dancers floating in a thick and heavy liquid, occasionally struck by blunt objects that give them the impulse to shift from point of impact. There is something about their expressionless, almost possessed, faces that instill a creepy vibe… with the exception of Armato who, curiously, wears a cheeky smile, taunting the audience.
On the other hand, Máté Mészáros and Nóra Horváth’s offbeat piece explored a very pedestrian idea of human behaviour within society. My eyes were on Rebecca Camilleri Pace as she stepped out on stage adjusting her clothes and hair. Arrogantly, I thought that she spaced out and forgot she was performing, until in a humbling moment, I realized this was intentional. The dancers first looked like they were test subjects sampled for a social experiment to observe how they interact with the space and each other. Mindless and aimless walking past one another eventually spawned some interesting relationships. Natalie Muschamp affectionately shadowed Eszter Joo while Marie Keiser-Nielsen blatantly rejected Francesca Zammit’s warm hugging grip. Seemingly breezy and simple, this choreography actually hints at more complex concepts lying beneath the surface. Its playful quality felt like it was masking a colder side to human relations, as if their smiles were forcefully polite. Is it a harmless, friendly gesture to pick up someone over your shoulder, or might it also depict the mover’s domination over the one being moved? Does it not count as marginalisation if the person being outcast dons a fake smile? The title Evil Hug leaves us with a lot to think about.
The whole show shared a common theme of Maltese identity, a theme within which I could easily place myself. However, Anceps felt foreign to me; like something I could only admire but never get close to. Recent Dance Studies graduate Patrick Laera’s choreography stunned me. I sat transfixed as Evans slithered with a riveting sensual tenderness and sprawled over Velazco Robbe, clinging on to him passionately. Lurking in the shadows at the spotlight’s outskirts was Armato, whose enticing fluidity painted the stage with vibrancy. Every now and again we would get a peek at her face or a fraction of her body sneakily snatching some light. Skorba’s Merħba saturated the air with its seductive instrumental and captivating vocals, gradually giving way to the more melodic and beautifully tragic ‘Meu Fado Meu’. Armato and Evans draped over each other effortlessly, like soft cloths as Velazco Robbe stood calmly on the chair and with a firm bold statement, spread red lipstick on his lips. He milked this moment exquisitely, owning his identity and speaking volumes louder than words. I felt slightly choked up at the end of this performance, as I looked to my friend who seemed lost for words. I was touched in a way that is hard to put into words, like something so dear to your heart you don’t want to share it.
I found myself yearning for more as our exceptional third year students took their final bow. The applause that met this said it all; we were all moved by the magical show of innovation and talent that we had just witnessed.