The summer of Malta’s first contemporary circus

We speak to the international band of performers who will be helping to ‘midwife’ CirkuMalta's first show: Darirari, playing this week at the National Park Theatre, Ta' Qali.

Irish trapeze artist Roisin Morris – one of the international performers coaching local talent and performing at CirkuMalta’s first show.
Irish trapeze artist Roisin Morris – one of the international performers coaching local talent and performing at CirkuMalta’s first show.

In life - and particularly in adult life - we're often told to scale back on believing in Romantic clichés. Love at first sight doesn't happen, medieval knights were often hardly the paragon of heroism and virtue and pirates, appealing though their adventurous, swashbuckling stories may be, were essentially rapists and pillaging criminals (with bad teeth).

And today's fast-paced, technologically gentrified and always-wired world hardly allows for the myth of the rag-tag travelling circus to thrive, right? The Malta Arts Festival-commissioned 'Darirari' - the inaugural performance by the newly-set up CirkuMalta, brainchild of Sean Buhagiar and Chris Dingli - seems to unfortunately put paid to this fear. How much bite can a State-sponsored circus truly have (especially when the event is rubbing shoulders with the likes of the Kronos Quartet and Shakespeare's Globe in the Arts Fest programme)? Shouldn't circuses be all about free, fugitive spirits with outrageous facial hair/tattoos/physical oddities, existing way outside the remit of conventional society?

But upon encountering the international team that is set to 'midwife' Malta's very first contemporary circus, I'm forced to tell my scepticism to go hang. This is most glaringly due to one particular member among their number, the Irish trick cyclist/juggler Paddy Waters. And even more particularly still - his moustache. It's a perfectly symmetrical set of Edwardian curlicues that puts my own attempts at the same style to complete and utter shame.

But the entire group's relaxed and jokey demeanour suggests that, successful in their own fields as they may be - cemented by the fact that they are applying their talents to help out budding Maltese circus practitioners - they're definitely not the type to compromise on their quirks and eccentricities.

"The idea of the circus has definitely become broader in recent years. There's lots of examples of circuses right now that are in fact government or council funded," circus performer and organiser Annabel Carberry tells me, seemingly taken aback by my rather narrow idea of what circuses should be.

"There are several directions in which you can take a circus nowadays - some would perhaps make use of government, others may want to go in a different direction..."

Carberry is one of the core members - and Creative Producer - of Lost in Translation Circus, a UK-based circus company that unites - in one way or another, all of the international performers currently in Malta to participate in Darirari.

Lost in Translation Circus's other Creative Producer, Massimiliano Rossetti (no prizes for sussing out his Italian origins) speaks warmly of the collaboration that blossomed, apparently quite instantly, when the UK-based Chris Dingli first contacted him to help breathe life into Malta's first bona fide contemporary circus.

Darirari group

Front: Massimiliano Rossetti (bottom), Annabel Carberry (top)

Back: Paddy Waters (bottom), Roisin Morris (top)


"When Chris first approached us, he pitched Darirari as being a 'community' based project that would involve Maltese people directly. Right off the bat, I felt a genuine connection to the initiative, and the vibe has been great here. Of course it helps that we can just head down to the beach after rehearsals... that's great..."

The team appear to be genuinely confident that - as is Chris Dingli and Sean Buhagiar's dream - a 'circus culture' can become a reality for Maltese cultural life very soon. Carberry is quick to point out that the group, who will also be performing during Darirari's run next week, are simply there to provide the "circus meat" to the talent that local performers already have, while Paddy Waters observes that Malta certainly isn't lacking for enthusiasm on this front.

"Everyone I've spoken to here is really hungry for what we have to offer. Dancers keep telling me there's not enough avenues for dancing, actors say pretty much the same thing... the way I see it is that in Malta you have several little 'islands' working with the island - and a circus could really serve as a great platform to unify all of these isolated little creative communities."

Once again pointing to government funding as the ideal source of financial lifeblood for this kind of initiative - "for a small country like Malta, perhaps seeking out long-term commercial sponsors may not be the most viable option" - Waters says that if "motivation continues to run high, they can really go far".

Chiming in as if to prove that Waters isn't just indulging in platitudes, Rossetti says that he was particularly impressed by one of the local budding jugglers.

"Even though he worked with me for just a couple of days, I immediately saw him come in leaps and bounds. If he and other performers manage to keep working at this pace, there will be no stopping them."

One of the performers we will get the privilege of seeing during Darirari's run next week is Slava Popov, a Russian acrobat who performed with Cirque du Soleil between 2004 and 2006. Though he's hardly the most voluble among the group, he's unambiguous about the possibility of a firmly entrenched Maltese circus becoming a reality.

"I can see it happening in a year's time, easily. These guys are really passionate, and it was great for me to experience their energy and to just jump in and help them, in whichever way I could."

Darirari will be unified by a very specific - though, I suppose equally broad - theme: 'Malta and the Maltese'. For Rossetti, this didn't require all that much unpacking.

"It made very happy to realise just how much Maltese and Italian culture have in common! This became immediately apparent to me when Chris started running some of his ideas past me. The traditional folk music that we'll be using reminds me of a particular Italian dialect, and other visual cues - like farmer in a straw hat tilling the fields under the scorching sun - evoke very specific memories for me.

"I think recognising where you come from is very important, though you shouldn't get too bogged down in it. You need to be aware of your background, but then be ready to move forward. Which is the great thing about collaborating with people from different cultures."

Waters's take on the matter is even more universal.

"I think that it's great that Chris and Sean had this very clear intention to add a Maltese flavour to the circus. But ultimately I think circuses speak to all people worldwide because they focus on something that everyone can relate to: the body. We all do physical things, and the circus just amplifies that. So then it's not so hard to make it relevent to the community you're performing for..."

Darirari will be playing at the National Park Theatre, Ta' Qali on 9, 10 and 11 July.