Notte Bianca returns on Saturday, and with it a new artistic director, SEAN BUHAGIAR. He tells us what’s in store. Photo Steve Mugliett.
Notte Bianca, the one night in the year when the capital comes alive with a multitude of performances, exhibitions and events, is set to take a new direction this year. Not so new as to lose its intrinsic vibe, which has successfully attracted the Maltese in thousands over the past seven years, but certainly new enough to up the excitement level a notch or two.
The man to thank for this new direction is Sean Buhagiar, him of ĊirkuMalta (the animal-free circus) fame. Buhagiar succeeds Peter Busuttil, whose contribution in establishing Notte Bianca as one of the biggest dates on the Maltese cultural calendar was invaluable. “Notte Bianca is the one night that really gets everyone flocking to Valletta and the idea is to make the most of it and to ensure a fun-filled evening. I want to take culture to the people, but not necessarily in the usual manner. Visitors to Notte Bianca do not come there to have intellectual stuff thrown at them – they usually come to soak in the atmosphere, to wander around the streets and enjoy whatever is happening around them. My vision is to use this to our advantage.”
The way Buhagiar plans to do this is simple: re-interpret existing spaces in the city, presenting more street art and adding that touch of the unusual and the spontaneous that will ensure visitors will be exposed to a number of cultural genres that they might not otherwise be interested in.
Buhagiar says that his goal is to leave a cultural legacy by investing in facilities that will remain there and that can be further exploited in other, future events. His other long-term goal is to enable a cultural regeneration of specific areas in Valletta.
“Just to mention a couple of examples, we plan to set up a Jazz Quarter in the Marsamxett area. There is nothing to stop this from becoming a regular event,” Buhagiar explains.
Buhagiar believes in Notte Bianca as an opportunity for creatives from all sectors to collaborate across the board. This includes more co-operation between amateurs and professionals; Buhagiar mentions the possibility of those who are involved in carnival festivities collaborating with professional visual artists as an example.
The performing arts hold a dear place in Buhagiar’s heart, in particular street arts, which he says is already a massive phenomenon across Europe. Buhagiar also believes that the visual arts need to be presented through a different angle, besides including new blood and perspectives and being combined with street culture.
There is also a focus on music. Notte Bianca is well-known for offering a diversity of genres. The more rock/pop/indie oriented music traditionally winds up being performed as a hodge-podge in the Upper Barrakka area, however, Buhagiar intends fine-tuning the system in order to offer a curated product.
“For starters, one of the conditions this year is that all participating bands need to perform mostly original work. I did not want a situation where you get bands offering six covers and only two original pieces. The idea is for Notte Bianca to offer them a showcase and to facilitate encounters with producers, agents and venue owners. This can only work if they are presenting original material,” he explains.
Moreover, the programme will be curated in such a way as to avoid having wildly divergent genres clashing with each other, with – for example – a jazz outfit being immediately followed by a punk band.
Performances will also not necessarily stay anchored in the Barrakka areas. Buhagiar believes that people who visit Notte Bianca rarely do so with specific events in mind. Rather, they attend to soak the atmosphere, enjoy the food and drink and to meander casually – while doing this, they obviously encounter whatever events happen to be going on in that particular area.
“Because of this, we’re extending the impromptu and random aspect of the programme considerably. People might be walking down an alley and suddenly come face-to-face with two squabbling noblemen; or maybe they will be crossing Zachary Street when they come upon a pianist doing his thing. They might not necessarily plan to attend one of the classical music events – but in this way, they still get exposed to it.”
Classical music, this year, will in fact be taken mostly outdoors, with what Buhagiar refers to as the different ‘levels’ of Valletta being used to maximum advantage. These include rooftops and balconies, which reportedly will offer a number of surprises.
“There is also a Malta Philharmonic Orchestra concert in St George’s Square. This year, it comes with a difference and we will not be using the traditional stage. Let’s just say that we will be making use of all the potential space in the square,” the artistic director says.
Buhagiar adds that a number of bars, restaurants and venues also set up their own entertainment for the night. Although not part of the official Notte Bianca programme, these events can still co-exist to advantage of, he says.
“I’m trying not to filter these. Chaos can be used well.”
Some events in this year’s programme leap out more than others. Ġggantija, a possible collaboration between different architects, artists and scientists that may culminate in a huge, floating structure over the skyline of Valletta, is one of them. Rather mysteriously, Buhagiar says that more details are set to be revealed later.
Another equally innovative event is Urbe Nova, a collaboration with V18 and Science in the City which sees international musicians recording Maltese work and projecting the performance live on the walls of Castille.
“This is the perfect example of an inter-disciplinary collaboration,” Buhagiar tells me excitedly.
Looks like it is all game, set, go on the Notte Bianca camp – but Buhagiar leaves with a parting shot.
“Changes take time to implement. But we are already working hard for next year’s edition, when you can expect more developments.”
Notte Bianca will take place across Valletta on October 5.
An edited version of this interview was published on the Sunday Times of Malta.