The motto of the 31st edition of the Malta Festival Poznań is “Back to the Ground”. After months of confinement and living primarily in the virtual world, we are returning to the roots. We will once again come together to celebrate art in real life, in urban space, outdoors and in the comfortable seats in theatre halls. Our international programme that we had to cancel last year owing to the coronavirus pandemic is back as well. Our guest director this year is Milo Rau dubbed by critics as “the most influential” (Die Zeit), “the most awarded” (Le Soir), “the most interesting” (De Standaard), and “the most ambitious” (The Guardian) artist of our times. His presence at the Malta Festival marks the beginning of a new programming section entitled “Portrait of an Artist”.
After we ended our Idioms project that had been setting the tone for the main programme of the festival for many years, we will now focus on presenting the work of outstanding artists from the contemporary culture scene working either in theatre or literature. The idea behind the Idioms project was choosing a theme that our curator of the year, our guest artist, was asked to elaborate on and interpret. As part of the Portrait of the Artist section we will present performances that are the talk of the town in Poland but can rarely be seen live, we will produce and coproduce theatrical and musical shows, and will discuss the way the artist portrayed in the given year works, both in terms of artistic output and methodology. We will try to identify the themes and language that identify their artistic work and the views of the contemporary that are manifested via their theatrical or literary oeuvre. More broadly, we want to find out what the interests of artists and audiences beyond Poland are. We want to consider the social context in which the people of culture answer questions posed by the contemporary world. Another issue of interest to us are matters of significance to the artistic milieu, as well as the impact of the system within which the given artist is operating on his or her work. We want to find out what constraints the system imposes and what opportunities it opens. We plan to hold debates with artists and their collaborators, as well as with researchers of their work.
This year’s programme is opened by Milo Rau who, as a director and head of NTGent in Gent, redefines the contemporary language of theatre, and promotes new methods of collaboration and interaction between artists and the audience. In his theatrical performances, films, books, and political interventions, Rau touches upon historical and contemporary conflicts, crimes, social and political taboo topics, and ponders about alternative solutions to global schemes dependent on capitalist logic. Through his artivism he proves that political theatre really makes sense and it can bring about relevant change. Rau creates a solidarity-based theatre grounded on the belief that art belongs to everyone – he believes that each and every person who participates in art is a full-fledged artist, including assistants and technical staff.
Milo Rau outlined his vision of theatre and art in a manifesto published after he became the director of NTGent in 2018. His vision is that of a theatre breaking down the constraints of a repertory theatre closed to outside actors and non-professionals, a theatre that is not very flexible or mobile and that rarely works or performs in other parts of the world. Rau developed a new model of theatre, one that is political, mobile and creative. Under Rau NTGent is now an institution endorsing the modern aesthetics and acts as the go-between for the theatre world and the city, engaging the residents of Gent into its activities via discussing socially-relevant topics, inviting them to take active part in performative projects and by offering an extensive programme of workshops and debates.
Collaboration with NTGent will also set the tone for the Malta Festival in 2022. The international programme of next year’s edition of the festival will be devoted to the Flemish director Luke Perceval who has been the artist in residence of the theatre in Gent since 2019. Perceval, one of the most important theatre makers in Europe, returned to Flanders after 14-years of living in Germany. The following year, in 2023, the Malta Festival 2023 will celebrate the work of Orhan Pamuk. The writings of the Turkish winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature will serve as inspiration for the performative and discursive programme of the edition to be held two years from now.
The artistic output of the portrayed artist influences the other elements of the Malta Festival programme as well. This year, the series of evening theatre performances will be dominated by the work of Komuna Warszawa which is, as its members call it, the “follower and heir” of Komuna Otwock, one of the most interesting Polish independent artistic groups operating in the field of art and social activism in late 20th and early 21st centuries. The Malta Festival 2021 programme features five performances produced by Komuna, including one play co-produced with Teatr Polski in Poznań. Similarly to Milo Rau, the activism and involvement of the makers of Komuna stem from the strong belief in human solidarity and accountability for the world we live in. Over the years, the theatre company self-declared itself as an “anarchistic community of doing” endorsing solidarity as the basis for human co-existence. Today, both Komuna and Rau endorse human cooperation and attach profound meaning to the power of the community. Working with and for the community is conducive to the expansion of the artistic field of operation and it serves as a strategy for resisting the subjection of all human activity to the logic of profit.
Resistance is the underlying theme of this year’s Forum section. In the discursive programme of the Malta Festival addressed to a wide audience we are giving up for discussion the strategy of various resistance movements via focusing our attention, in particular, on the events that took place in 2021 during the pandemic-induced lockdown in cities around the United States, in Belarus, Brazil, and Poland where thousands of people took to the streets to protest against the systemic injustice of the state. Resistance does not have to take the form of street demonstrations. It can also manifest itself in simple gestures of human solidarity. It can be both covert and clearly visible in public space, temporary and permanent, local and global, all at the same time.
Resistance, involvement, solidarity and responsibility are the thematic denominator for this year’s international programme, for the presentation of Komuna Warszawa’s work, for the activities held as part of the Forum, and the Generator which has been the core artivist component of the festival since 2013. Last year, artists centred their artistic activities on the topic of water, while this year the underlying theme of Generator Malta is another of the four elements of nature – the earth. Who, whether states, citizens, international organisations, or societies, has the right to call themselves owners of land and why? Who decides on land ownership and control? What are the most essential aspects of our relationship with the earth if our cultural, economic, social and biological life will only last for as long as the Earth will allow it to exist? As part of the Zaklepane / Ground Rules section (the programme of which has been determined for the past few years based on an open call addressed to artistic milieus) we will hold nine premiere Polish and foreign projects thematically linked to the notion of the earth understood as the ground, soil, matter and an element.
Our journey back to the ground also symbolises Malta Festival’s return to its roots, to the 1990s, when after many decades of living under the Communist regime, freedom in Poland blossomed and flourished. Back then, the shows and performances held during the Malta Festival, initially staged at the bank of the Malta Lake and later on in the streets and squares of the city, were available to everyone who wanted to become part of the festival audience. We feel that the pandemic rekindled the human need for communal celebration and for being together. This year, there will be plenty of opportunities to sit down on the grass, dance, laugh and cry and experience the thrill of watching performers, dancers, musicians, actors and actresses, circus artists including jugglers and clowns, and acrobats who will invade the city during the festival. This year, the events scheduled in the main programme of the festival will be held primarily in the Wieniawskiego and Moniuszki Parks and this move marks the symbolic end of our memorable 11-year-long presence in Liberty Square. We invite everyone to take part in all of the festival events including theatre performances for children and adults, artistic actions and concerts held during the day and in the evenings. The repertory of the theatres of Poznań will be strongly represented this year and performances will be staged both outdoors and in confined spaces. The line-up of this section features four premiere plays.
One of the highlights of this year’s edition will be the world premiere of the Krynicki Project concert by three outstanding composers of Polish classical music, namely Paweł Mykietyn, Alek Nowak, and Paweł Szymański. Each of the artists was commissioned by the Malta Festival to compose musical pieces to illustrate the poems of Ryszard Krynicki, one of the most important Polish contemporary poets. Although the artist currently lives in Kraków, he had spent most of his life in Poznań. In 2018, he was awarded the title of Honorary Citizen of the City of Poznań. Each of the pieces composed differs in form and was written with a different set of instruments in mind. One of the works will be performed by Sinfonia Varsovia headed by Bassem Akiki. The concert will end with a live drawing and animation performance by Mariusz “Wilk” Wilczyński to the sound of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero.
As every year, the force of the Malta Festival lies in its diversity and consistency. We consistently blend different worlds, we demonstrate how the less obvious things, seemingly separate and distinct, combined and transformed with the help of creative talent and the power of art become easily available to everyone driven by the curiosity of experiencing and learning about the unknown. One thing is certain, our audience never ceases to astonish us with their incessant curiosity. Stay curious and join us at the Malta Festival!
Michał Merczyński, Dorota Semenowicz