‘Gozo could become a contemporary dance hub’

Having adapted Alice in Wonderland and Snow White for the stage, Gozitan ballet troupe Naupaca Dance Factory return to the – both Maltese and Gozitan – stage with their most ambitious project yet: an adaptation of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, with the collaboration of international dancers Sergei Kheylik as Dante and Francesco Mariottini as Virgil.

Was it daunting to adapt such a classic text? How did you go about ‘chipping away’ at Dante’s work to make it both palatable to a contemporary audience and, also, to make it work visually?

Deborah Agius (Production Manager, ‘Beatrice’): It was extremely daunting, we’re still challenged by it. It has affected us even on a personal level. We are invested in it both professionally and emotionally. The project is always evolving, ‘chipping away’ at Dante is a process.

Maria Theuma (scriptwriter): La Divina Commedia has taught us so much, even about contemporary society. Reading it closely, you discover that human nature hasn’t changed much since the 14th century. Because of this, the poem is extremely relatable. We’ve tried to explore this through our project, to unveil how the obsession with and the search for love, beauty, perfection and genius is still as present as ever in contemporary societies.

Given that this production also marks a move away from your previous work in that it deals with a specifically literary work - as opposed to fairy/folk tale - how did you approach the visual and thematic aspects of the production?

Luke Azzopardi (Naupaca resident costume designer): This time the literary source demanded extreme reverence. Visually, it’s all about the play between an internal state of being and a strong sense of aesthetics. We’re going for three completely different looks for each act; namely Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso. In Inferno, we found ourselves being very much interested in the heaviness of it all, and we decided that that heaviness could be translated into something that looks extremely stylized and artficial, absurd even.

Purgatorio is our most adventurous take on a literary source yet. We’ve taking quite a risk with it. It’s going to be totally kitsch and colourful. The creation of Paradiso was quite daunting. I don’t think we can describe it – it needs to be seen and felt. Mostly the latter.

Did you learn anything new from this particular production? What was it like working with international dancers?

Joeline Tabone (director, choreographer): We’ve been thinking about the different roles within the ballet for the past year or so. It was really hard for me, because I’ve always worked with and been inspired by people I personally know. One of our main concerns was that of finding the right male dancers, who transmit the right amount of ‘manliness’. In the sense that, Divina is very organic and raw, and we wanted to get the right male dancers who could provide the accurate amount of balance against a female back-up cast of dancers.

For Divina, Deborah Agius and Denise Buttigieg were the dancers I worked with mostly. I choreographed the whole project on them, hoping that it would eventually look good on other dancers, even male ones. Denise is incredible, I still don’t understand how she gets it all. She’s 13 years old. Dante’s role was developed on her, from beginning to end.

Virgil’s role was composed on Deborah, and she has managed to switch from Virgil to her actual role, which is that of Beatrice, with remarkable skill. Apart from that she’s project coordinator. Also, it’s true that we have found very little financial support, but this has made us grow. We’ve learnt an awful lot about how to manage this, how to deal with the practicalities of a project of this scale.

Sergey Kheylik is a bit of a miracle really. We were at a loss with regard to assigning Dante’s role to the right male dancer. I once opened my inbox and, to my surprise, found an email from Sergey, asking about any work opportunities within Naupaca. I actually thought it was a joke. I still cannot believe our luck. Dante had found us.

I cannot imagine Dante being danced by anyone else. He just gets it. Francesco Mariottini, who plays Virgil was recruited in a different way. I was in love with him when he was on the Italian TV show, Amici, and couldn’t think of anyone better to dance the role of Virgil. He defied my expectations. He looks like a Greek god in real life, but once he enters the studio he becomes so deeply involved in the character that his beauty is transformed into profound emotion.

What kind of flavour do you think Naupaca brings to the local dance scene, generally speaking? Would you say that being Gozitan makes a difference at all?

JT: I believe that Naupaca asks audiences to get in touch with their own selves. That idea is always at the very basis of each and every choregraphy. Also, being Gozitan gives us more freedom. Life in Gozo gives us more time to focus on ourselves, to discover what we really want to do.

Do you hope to export the show beyond our shores? Have you taken any steps in this regard?

DA: That’s what we’re aiming at. We’ve already established a few contacts in Rome and in London. Divina is our first original project and we’re doing our best to take it beyond our shores. Moreover we want to establish ourselves and to make Malta and Gozo proud.

JT: Our final target is to attract more foreign artists to Gozo. We want to go abroad, and bring ‘the abroad’ to Gozo. Gozo could become a contemporary dance hub.  

Divina will open its doors on the 18 October at the Mediterranean Conference Centre with a repeat performance on the 24 October at the Aurora Theatre Opera House in Valletta. Early bird discounts are available till the 28 September. For tickets, visit: http://mcc.com.mt/ or http://tatruaurora.com/

For more information about Naupaca Dance Factory, visit: http://www.naupacadancefactory.com/

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