Exploring the ambiguity of identity through the body

Ahead of Moveo Dance Company’s contribution to this year’s edition of the Malta Arts Festival, the company’s artistic director and choreographer Dorian Mallia speaks to Teodor Reljic about D.O.K., which aims to explore what defines Maltese identity through dance

Dorian Mallia (far left): “The idea of identity is very fluid”
Dorian Mallia (far left): “The idea of identity is very fluid”

What were the initial steps of devising D.O.K and what, actually, lies behind the name of the event? 

The appeal to create an interdisciplinary work has been in my mind for the past three years and finally I have the opportunity and right collaborators to create a piece based on the idea of merging three different entities – music, dance and voice – together. The ideas were discussed during workshops and brainstorming sessions with the dancers – Diane Portelli, Elena Zammit, Jade Farrugia and Lucas Roque – Soprano Miriam Cauchi, Cellist Simon Vella Joslin and Composer Albert Garzia. 

The three letter acronym D.O.K found on wine labels, stands for denominazzjoni ta’ origini kontrollata. It is a certification that the grape is grown, and hence the wine is produced in Malta. This project is not connected to wine but this metaphor is a reflection to what I wanted to create, that of Maltese artists collaborating and fusing together to create a final project deserving the mark ‘D.O.K.’ 

What led you to focus specifically on national identity as part of the performance, and how do you set about identifying and subsequently performing what national — and specifically Maltese — identity is?

The question of identity is something that I keep questioning and investigating. It does not have a straightforward answer, and this is what intrigues me the most. I am a very curious person and get easily bored with something that is identified and structured. The idea of identity is very fluid and I find that it keeps changing in time and this fascinates me in a lot of different ways. 

The interest I have on the study of the ambiguity of the body in performance allows a whole spectrum of possibilities that permits deep search within the idea of identity. This led me to investigate Charles Camilleri’s music and philosophies, which I believe that within his repertoire he contributed a lot to the idea of Maltese national identity, underpinned by his philosophies. 

My collaborators, Soprano Miriam Cauchi, Cellist Simon Vella Joslin and Composer Albert Garzia worked very closely with Maestro Camilleri and contributed a lot towards the research of this project. These different layers of investigation and close relationships with Maestro Camilleri allow us to open up the question of Maltese identity. The question, however, remains open and it has become evident that there is not one definite or concrete answer to the question of identity. So I’m suggesting a fluid interpretation of these different notions that are ultimately layered and embodied within us, as Maltese, who have inherited, live and pass on a Maltese legacy.

How would you say D.O.K builds on Moveo’s previous work?

The aim of Moveo Dance Company is to constantly search for the new and that which can capture an ambiguous notion in our performances. The constant study of the body in motion is also very essential to our work and this concept is further challenged. The shift of roles of all performers, that are singing, creating music and dancing, gives equal weight and importance to all collaborators. The body in performance is what intrigues us the most, and within this there is a whole spectrum of possibilities that includes identity, cultural and social behaviours. 

What do you make of the local dance scene? 

The local contemporary dance scene, I believe, is at its early stages even though contemporary dance in Malta has already been introduced in the past. We are lucky that now we have the possibility to investigate our roots, and Maltese choreographers are slowly emerging. In all honesty there is a lot of talent in the dance scene and our schools are producing great dancers. I am proud to say that the dance members of Moveo are mostly Maltese and all started their training in Malta which allowed them a great base to further their career both in Malta and overseas. 

What would you change about it? 

Art should always be led by artists and supported by a strong infrastructure. Local audience limitations should be considered and made up for. I believe that more importance should be given toward promoting Maltese artists and performances on an international level. International exposure of what is Maltese should go beyond Malta Song, the Maltese summer, sea, baroque and history, and serious promotion should be given to the wider spectrum of the arts. 

What’s next for you?

I am currently working on next season’s international tour that includes UK, Washington DC, Prague and possibly Palestine. We are also excited to continue with more collaborations with different artist including Alegria Dance Company where we will be fusing flamenco dance with contemporary dance, which will be premiered at the Teatru Manoel in February 2017. This current collaboration D.O.K will also continue to develop and will be represented next year in a different context. On top of this I will continue lecturing within the Dance Department at MCAST and the University of Malta. I have also been invited as a guest lecturer in institutions in the UK and Sweden. My aim is to further develop my field of study (the ambiguity of dance in performance) which will eventually lead to a PhD. 

DOK will be performed at Fort St Elmo, Valletta on July 13 at 21:00. Bookings: https://booking.teatrumanoel.com.mt