Four Flew Over

by Stanley Borg

It’s easy to see how Icarus came badly unstuck. According to Greek mythology, he was flying somewhere over Ikaria, one of the Greek islands, when the sun started melting his wings. According to myself, it wasn’t the sun but the view which brought him to a cropper - and seen from above, Greece, written with a flurry of islands on a blue Curacao of a sea is certainly distracting. No wonder Breughel the Elder, when he painted Landscape with the Fall of Icarus some 450 years ago, put more effort in painting the Greek landscape than he did Icarus, who is just a tiny forgotten dot in the foreground.

Risking sounding as repetitive as a man with a big cigar, please allow me two minutes for my laments. I miss Greece like hell, or rather, like Hades. The stunning sweep of beaches, the olive and lemon groves, the cypresses clinging to deep ravines… thoughts of them linger like white grainy sand between my toes, or toffee sauce between my alveolar ridge and hard palate. Greece - with its landscape pixelating with the heat and its lonely herds of goats peeking out from boulders only to disappear in a rush of smog and deadly traffic. Athens - with buildings which seem to have been something or just about to be something.

Uncannily enough, the first performance I witness once I get back here is something named ICARUS 4 at ActionBase studio in Naxxar. I use the word ‘something’ because it wasn’t exactly theatre – there wasn’t much that took place between actors and the invited spectators, of whom I was one. It wasn’t a performance, since it lacked the structure of one. It didn’t even have a director. Yet significantly so, since it was something that only happens once in a performer’s life – a step in the becoming of a performer and a performance. We can call it a non-performance performative event - the verb ‘performing’ in its journey to the noun ‘performance’.

ICARUS 4 was a 60-minute ‘in progress’, that is, a performing aspiring to be a performance sometime in the future. The work formed part of the Icarus Formation Programme, initiated and since then guided by pedagogue Frank Camilleri two and a half years ago. Starting off with 14 participants in February 2001, the number settled to four – Stefan Aquilina, Caroline Gatt, Louise Ghirlando and Sandro Spina. The next step was starting the individual research on the Icarus theme, followed by almost one year of training in physical technique, voice, objects and technical work. Until they were ready for their first encounter with an audience, or rather, witnesses to an on the road to performance.

Each performer had a number of texts, which ranged from Ecclesiastes to Coelho’s The Alchemist, ‘Tifkiriet ta’ Tfuliti’ by Karmenu Vassallo to a traditional French song to lyrics from Pink Floyd’s Learning to Fly and The Trial. The performers, independent from each other and each with an individual rhythm, worked non-frontally around the chosen texts while exercising physical technique, breathing and vocalization of breath. This individuality and non-committal to a single performance was understandable due to the fact that what the audience was seeing was a performing which still hasn’t met the external eye of the director. The role of Frank Camilleri as pedagogue was more akin to a performer’s inner voice than to a director directing a performance piece.

Louise Ghirlando went first, with a performing entitled ‘Lila – Bride of the Wind’, which more than anything else, was a notable exercise in vocalization. The vocal qualities of ‘hard’ and ‘heavy’, ‘soft’ and ‘light’ and resulting combinations were explored, and each word escaped the moorings of its meaning, becoming a non-rationalistic tool in the process. Sandro Spina followed with ‘Milvus – Breeze and Dream Vendor’, based on an untitled poem by Silvano Agosti and ‘Frott’, a poem penned by Spina himself. Milvus focused on object work with the flicker of a lighted lamp, strangely reminiscent of Frank Camilleri’s id-Descartes and at times almost equally effective. Caroline Gatt constructed her ‘Odile and Odette - Swan Sisters’ around a white shawl and fully exploited her physical and vocal tenure. Last was Stefan Aquilina’s ‘Pink – The Inept/Free Dreamer’, a more physically engaging performing than the rest and at times, an interesting dialogue with Odile and Odette - Swan Sisters. The whole effect was a 60-minute highly disciplined performing dripping with a convoluted flow of visual metaphors - four solos, yet a consistency of the work on rhythm, textures, dynamics and modes of scenic behavior. ICARUS 4 was a performing that grabbed me and tapped me on the shoulder one week afterwards and said ‘Think about me! I’m still here and I’m not going to go away’. That’s why I’m writing this – not to clean ICARUS 4 out of my system and make it go away, but to make it stay.

In Frank Camilleri’s words, ICARUS 4 is what happens when you focus on the roots of performing rather than the leaves of performance. Taking care of the roots, pruning and styling, the flowers and leaves will emerge, and since the Icarus project should take, in all, four to five years, this is bound to happen, and Icarus, after engaging the verb flying, will deal with the noun flight, the performance.