Moulding stories out of movement | ZfinMalta

We speak to the team behind the Valletta 2018 Foundation and ZfinMalta’s Artistic Director Mavin Khoo about the two association’s new collective project: an exciting collection of dance films directed by Cedric Vella and inspired by the communal project Qatt Ma Ninsa

The Largest Roman Anchor - Gabin Corredor and Zoe Camilleri of ZfinMalta
The Largest Roman Anchor - Gabin Corredor and Zoe Camilleri of ZfinMalta

Why did you opt for the dance film as your next project?

Valletta 2018: Valletta 2018 approached ZfinMalta at the time of its inception to ask them if they would be interested in collaborating on this project. Valletta 2018 commissioned Cedric Vella to create the project and Zfin Malta was invited to be part of the project aptly named Tafal (‘Clay’) as the bodies of dancers, and the lens of the camera, mould stories into physical form.

What are some of the main challenges in transposing dance from the stage to the screen? What are some of the ‘new’ things you have to think about? And how does it apply in this particular case?

Mavin Khoo: The main thing is to renegotiate details as one is shifting from an overall perspective to a variety of possibilities that the camera allows for. In a way it provides more options but of course, it potentially would not translate the kind of overall experience that a live performance translates. So, it’s important to ensure that details that can not be emphasized on stage is articulated through the camera.

With this particular project, I paid a lot of attention to the human aspect of the dancers. That is what will hopefully project the emotive aspect that stands as the continuum of those histories with the dancers and the viewers.


What was the process of sourcing the relevant stories that you adapted? How did you set about adapting them?

Valletta 2018: The stories came about through the Qatt ma Ninsa project with the Malta Maritime Museum (Heritage Malta) back in 2014. Objects and stories were collected by the Museum and Valletta 2018, and in the process, curator Liam Gauci put together an exhibition of objects from the Museum’s collection that encapsulated the idea of the story behind the object. ZfinMalta came into existence at around the same time Cedric Vella was approached to work on Tafal, and so a beautiful collaboration was born.

Mavin Khoo: Liam was particularly helpful providing the dancers with such passionate descriptions, really engaging them with the ‘lives’ (of the characters) if you like. He also gave clear contextual frameworks... social, political and the rest. We then worked with objects and out of that the dancers developed material that we could use as motifs... It was important that we didn’t get too attached to material so that we would be able to shift when filming.

How would you describe the progress of ZfinMalta thus far, in terms of both your work and audience feedback that you’ve received?

Mavin Khoo: It’s been great and we are very happy. The quality of work has been acknowledged and there seems to be a genuine interest to see if we can keep further developing work like this. We would love that too!

More details on the Tafal project will be forthcoming. To stay updated, follow the project online through the Foundation’s Facebook page: and blog:


The filmmaker speaks

Cedric Vella
Cedric Vella

Cedric Vella gave us the lowdown on the Tafal project from behind the lens

“In a normal video the script tells you what to shoot. In this case it was the choreography. Also, each video had a separate theme. So we shot the scenes keeping in mind the theme of the story. 

 “An interesting thing about filming contemporary dance in an unconventional setting is that, though the choreographers prepare and practice before we film, the choreography normally adapts to suit the space, so there is much more fluidity compared to other projects.

“We met with the curator of the Malta Maritime Museum numerous times to discuss stories, locations and logistics of the project. However, much as we would have liked to be historically accurate in the dance videos, we realised that it was close to impossible for various reasons. We felt it would be better to capture the emotional aspect of the story. If people are curious about what they see on screen, they can delve in deeper into the stories and histories behind these dances on the Tafal website. (And I hope they will!)”