The interdisciplinary experience

The School of Performing Arts at the University of Malta will be organising two parallel events this week – one of them being a conference on 21st Century Performance and Research, with an interdisciplinary performance – ‘White’ – taking place in parallel at the Old University Building, Valletta. We spoke to the School’s Director of Research, Stefan Aquilina – who convenes the conference – and the directors of ‘White’, Mario Frendo and Lucía Piquero about what this meld of the academic and creative means for the contemporary theatrical scene in Malta 

Stefan Aquilina
Stefan Aquilina

How was the multi-disciplinary performance that you will have a hand in organising first thought up? What are some of the relevant elements of this performance, and how do you hope the multidisciplinary element will be emphasised throughout? 

Since its conception the School of Performing Arts at the University of Malta has been organising a collective performance where students from the three departments of dance, music, and theatre collaborate to devise a work and present it to an audience. Apart from giving more space to practical performance work to our students, the aim is to underline one of the School’s main objectives, namely that of promoting interdisciplinarity as a matter of practice. Interdisciplinarity in performance has been on the agenda of relevant performing arts ensembles around the globe.

Of course, we want our students to keep abreast of contemporary practices and to experience, through practice, the challenges and benefits of creating works in collaboration with artists from different media. The interdisciplinary aspect is what foregrounds the performance ‘White’ that will be presented this year. 

Would you say there has been some genuine progress in Malta when it comes to interdisciplinary collaboration, both from an academic/research perspective as well as performative practise? If so, how is this manifesting itself?

On the local scene there is definitely more awareness of the aesthetic benefits when a performance involves practitioners from different media. Although there are still those who adopt what are considered as traditional approaches to their work, more local performance practitioners are experimenting with interdisciplinarity. It is becoming more and more common, in theatre for instance, to have choreographers and sound designers work together directly on productions.

Likewise, dance performers are making use of the role of dramaturgs for their creations. From an academic perspective, this is definitely the case at the University of Malta, where interdisciplinarity is at the core of the School’s research agenda.

With regards to the performance, do you think it will mainly appeal to those interested in the academic side of theatre, or do you hope to reach a more general audience?

Definitely a general audience. Even though a research framework underpins the performance ‘White’, the aim from the outset was to create a work that appeals to a general audience, including those who are not interested in academic research. This is done by giving attention to the piece’s aesthetics and poetry which, we are confident, will appeal to a broad audience. There is constant overlapping of dance, theatre, and musical aspects. Spectators who are usually attracted to any one of these separately will surely find ‘White’ an entertaining show.

Given that the topic of 21st century performance will be the subject of the conference, what would you say are some of the most urgent issues here? What can Malta in particular contribute to this debate? 

The theme of the conference has drawn substantial attention to the School of Performing Arts as an international research hub – it will feature presenters from the US, Canada, France, England, Germany, Poland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Iran, Australia, and, of course, Malta. It is also intended to create awareness of Malta’s potential as a base for knowledge creation and sharing. The role of digital technologies in performance is undoubtedly an area which the conference will discuss, through panel presentations and Prof Sarah Whatley’s (University of Coventry) keynote speech on Thursday (10 March).

The digital dimension is, however, only one aspect of a much broader twenty-first-century tapestry.  Two other keynote speakers will touch other issues; Prof Christopher Balme (University of Munich) will open the conference on Wednesday (9 March) and speak about ‘theatre in crisis’ as a productive way to think about the future of publicly funded theatre in Europe, while Prof. Jonathan Stock (University College Cork) will speak on Friday (11 March) about the performative outcomes of globalization vis-à-vis national identities.

Other panel presentations provide interdisciplinary links with subject areas like Philosophy, Language, History, Archiving, Cognitive Sciences, Pedagogy, and Politics. This event will certainly create interest, debate, and possibly indicate new avenues of research.

 The conference and performance will take place over 9, 10 and 11 March at the Old University Building, Valletta. For more information log on to: