Loosening up the house | Teatru Santwarju

Teodor Reljic speaks to Martina Georgina, Julia Camilleri and Althea Corlett, the trio behind Teatru Santwarju, a theatrical group keen to ‘loosen up’ the house of theatre, and whose performance Lib(r)a is coming up in a couple of weeks

From left: Martina Georgina, Julia Camilleri and Althea Corlett
From left: Martina Georgina, Julia Camilleri and Althea Corlett

First off, what can you tell us about Teatru Santwarju? How and when was it first set up, and what would you say distinguishes it from other performing arts groups on the island?

Martina Georgina: Teatru Santwarju (TS) is a growing project with the purpose to explore theatre as a loosened house for play. It was first conceived hiding in its own shadow almost two years ago, a whole year before I invited and collaborated with [fellow dancer Julia Camil-leri] on TS’s first performance Limbus. TS’s first year of existence seemed to live only in my notes and drawings and in the fictional footage I took. I later allowed others to enter and play and I continue to search for and work with individuals who find sanctuary in sharing and building on from their imagined realities. 

Julia Camilleri: Martina’s view of theatre as a sanctuary for ideas and individuals struck a chord with me, and during the months we spent working towards Limbus this concept formed deep roots in me on a personal and artistic level. Our methods were – and still are – intrinsi-cally experimental and emotional. The material we present is devised from hours of impro-vised movement together with candid exploration of our ‘real-life’ experiences. The creative process is far from linear in that we do not follow conventional techniques as others might; the movement, narrative and emotions of each performance inform one another interchange-ably and the boundaries between what is real and imagined are often blurred as a result.

Althea Corlett: The fact that there was an opportunity to work in a way that is so experi-mental, putting me and others in a lab-like space was immediately striking to me. This sacred theatre perspective made me devote to Lib(r)a from the start. TS is definitely keen and devot-ed to the areas of discovery about things that are already there but are yet to be experienced through the physical. Last spring, when Martina, Julia and I met to start off this work, we delved into an unknown; no stiff story line, no rigid rules, only basic knowledge of what Lib(r)a represents. 


What led the three of you to come together and collaborate on this particular perfor-mance?  Were there any particular themes you wanted to address, and how would you say your respective experience and track record with dance comes into play to craft the overall piece?

Georgina: I first started working with [set designer] Matthew Pandolfino as we sketched out possible ideas for a sculpture we are using in the piece; this was Lib(r)a’s starting point. I wanted to explore the contradictions rooted within ourselves, within our thoughts, emotions, instinct, desires, and morality and how we continue to strive to keep a balance between them. 

I later approached Julia and Althea and with them in mind I saw three different temperaments emerge. I have collaborated and devised with Julia before but this is my first time working with Althea, and both are well experienced in performance and dance in their own respective ways and I believed they would bring a particular and generous understanding of movement especially since my background is in theatre and not dance.

We began rehearsals with a lot of questions to answer. We started with no storyline. Like children through improvised play, we devised this collectively, alongside Rachel Calleja who has worked with us closely from the start of our rehearsals as she also assisted us with our character building and quality of movement. Using the same improvisation process, Julia has also worked on the initial sound for the piece, and this is being masterfully composed and fin-ished by Mario Sammut.


Camilleri: Martina had been hinting at a new performance for some time and I was on board before we actually discussed the themes to be addressed. When we finally put our heads to-gether with Althea – with whom I have luckily worked before – I was itching to find out what our diverse backgrounds in dance and theatre could bring to our distinct, almost archetypal characters. I was even more intrigued about the presence of Matthew’s sculpture and what movement and expressions it would evoke in us three. Our decisions during the whole pro-cess often involved us asking ourselves – what would I do if this were a real situation? In this way, our technical background and personal characteristics informed the piece at every step of the way, creating a deeply interesting dynamic. 

Corlett: Dance is a very physical part of Lib(r)a. I see how it has given the story-line its breath and space. When we set a movement, there is behind that movement a history of questioning and blurts of thought. As we move our bodies, our mind stay in line to question: “The Why- What is making me move this way?” 

And –“The How, how can I react to it” The movement, although it can be ambiguous, makes those very questions seem larger than life and connects our bodies to the underlying story-line. My classical and contemporary experience gave me ability to explore the work physically. What I enjoyed so much is investing the time, hours on end, to play and break linear rules that often hinder the movement itself. 

The Soother, whom I play, gives off the inkling that we must continuously be in balance to find our polarity of duality. The idea that in life there is balance and for everything in creation there must be a counter balance – and that in itself needed extreme time measures to even start to find and venture. 


How is its inherent – and bilingual – play on words of the Lib(r)a title borne out in the performance itself?

Georgina: We started rehearsals with Lib(r)a as our working title, as we identified and ques-tioned the search for balance within us, particularly within these three temperaments that we focused our attention on. 

Its Maltese reference, contrary to what many people may first see, once bore a very female and maternal meaning that is no longer associated with the word nowadays, as it has changed its meaning along the years and seems to only bear the male reference it holds today.    


What do you make of the local performing arts scene? What would you change about it? What’s next for you?

Georgina: Apart from yearly local festivals that commission a number of performances, I be-lieve theatre in Malta is still very dry. If local artists had to find more ways of connecting with each other, and not act as islands between themselves, there would be a more colourful choice of work. It is always important to hear of institutions such as the University of Malta School of Performing Arts, who are investing more time and focus on theatre-making and choreography so that our approaching generations would be perhaps less hesitant to work on their own in-dependent projects and depend less on manufactured opportunities.

Teatru Santwarju is still very young, and I intend to make it grow as I hope to continue to work with the people who have been involved so far and to work with all kinds of people, from different disciplines, who are interested in stretching their imaginations.

Camilleri: I consider myself lucky to be able to be active in the performing arts while main-taining a scientific career. However, I am often frustrated by this very situation because the reality is that Maltese performing artists are very rarely able to sustain themselves by their own work. 

At the risk of oversimplifying a situation, I feel that we play it safe by supporting well-trodden paths of traditional performance rather than give concrete support to those who push the boundaries and expectations of our audiences. 

Unless this attitude changes, performers will not be able to dedicate their time and energy on creating contemporary, thought-provoking pieces and Malta’s arts scene will remain stagnant.

Corlett:  I think the local performing arts scene has improved greatly from the time I graduat-ed in Theatre Studies at the University of Malta in 2012. After that, I had left for Germany to continue to train and ultimately find work as a dancer, with the idea to grow and acquire as much as I could possibly do. The pool of artists is so much larger and competitive there, but compared to the local scene, the performing arts industry didn’t really leave much room for opportunity. After dancing with the Nurnberg Opera, I felt I wanted to give something back in  Malta. So I looked into what was on and found a growing arts scene. I was so thrilled to hear how much the UOM has invested in the Arts particularly in the Dance Department.

The Arts Council is so much more accessible now and there are funds with tons of help that one can tap into to fuel his work. I do believe that there is a wider pool of resources for any-one to make use of now, more than ever. I do see certain flaws in mentality but I choose to fo-cus on the opportunity. We are as fortunate as artists to have this creative mind that we enjoy to practice and when one creative mind meets another, it can be extraordinary.  


Lib(r)a will be performed at the Valletta Campus Theatre, St Paul's Street, Valletta at 8:30pm. Bookings: http://shop.trackagescheme.com/event/libra