A soaring of bodies and minds symbolises Dante’s journey between Hell and Heaven.
Malta’s traditional doorways are a thing of wonder, but how do they fit within the concept of the Dante and Caravaggio-themed Three Palaces Festival? I confess I was curious, when confronted with the name of this event – Portal Shades.
But fit they do, of course. Musically, aesthetically, architecturally and – just as importantly – symbolically. Francesca Abela Tranter, as choreographic director for this production, was bang on the money taking inspiration from the island’s doorways, as immortalised by Charles Paul Azzopardi’s photography.
Because what is Dante’s journey from his Inferno to il Paradiso, if not a series of obscure portals and doorways representing the twists and turns we invariably encounter ‘nel mezzo del cammin’, if you will forgive me the paraphrasing.
Portal Shades kicks off in front of that most majestic doorway of all – that protecting the Manoel Island fortifications, which were recently restored. Tantalisingly, we are only shown the lower half of the dancers’ bodies, moving to the urgent beat, leaving us impatient to see what it is that keeps spurring them on so unforgivingly. Once the reveal comes, the viewer is reeled in unequivocally, up to the very end of the 27-minute long production.
The original score for this dance film was composed by Christopher Benstead, who beautifully melds the contemporary sounds to this classic tale, aiding us to ride the emotions so skilfully inspired by the troupe of dancers.
From fear to caution to suspense and joy, our minds soar with the movements and the music, taking in the beauty of Malta’s heritage – which, incidentally, suits the themes that are being addressed so well. The use of props is always a gamble, but in this case it works extremely well, and it’s a wonder how the marriage of choreography, music and cinematography can combine to turn something as simple as a bushelful of apples into something sinister.
The site-specific production is divided into four segments, each taking place within a different area of the Manoel Island fortifications. It brings me joy to see the Three Palaces Festivals productions using different local spaces so creatively, as audiences do not often get the opportunity to enjoy the island’s most beautiful and historically significant sights combined with a dance production.
This is certainly one aspect of the Festival’s evolution that needs to be applauded, and I take my hat off to artistic director Michelle Castelletti for making this happen.
But back to Portal Shades. Each segment offers a distinctive experience, from the urgent first attempt to ‘breach the doorway’, to the blindfolded frolics of the second part, the monochrome and – finally – the dramatic conclusion, taking us back to the portal, the physicality of the choreography imbued with ambiguity, leaving us viewers questing in our minds, the conclusion being wrought liminally.