Watch: Three Palaces Festival, Transformations & Translations

Festival sets off to a glorious start with couturier Luke Azzopardi’s Transformations & Translations

Couturier Luke Azzopardi has always had an uncanny ability to meld fashion, history and literature to create unique, and exquisitely stylised narratives that have played a significant role in ensuring couture takes its rightful place on the arts scene in Malta.

With Transformations & Translations – which received an online premiere yesterday with the start of this year’s edition of the Three Palaces Festival – he has taken his trademark artistic oeuvre a step further with a multi-disciplinary installation that uses the spectacular Museum of Archaeology as backdrop.

Azzopardi’s production is lusciously, if tragically, romantic – he takes the Ovidian myth of Actaeon and Diana as his point of departure and re-interprets the theme of transformation to create a powerful concept with haute couture as the focal point.

The result is a phantasmagorical fusion of music, movement, literature and design, with each artistic element yielding its individual id. In its place, we find the birth of an intricate tableau, one that depicts the many magnificent ways couture can be used to infuse an existing narrative with a contemporary accent. A true metamorphosis for Transformations & Translations, in fact.

Using this revisited myth of the Metamorphosis as muse, Azzopardi inspires his artists to expand on this ever-present, classical leitmotif. Composer Paul Max Edlin fills the rich space of the imposing Gran Salon with equally rich sounds that leave a definite emotional wound on our psyche.

The scene is set by the narrator even before we are transported to the Gran Salon, establishing a grandiose narrative that smoothly rewrites themes from classical Greek tragedy into a “borrowed allegory” for the wi-fi era – a poem by Maria Theuma that soothes and disturbs in equal measures.

Transformations & Translations takes us into the Gran Salon, with a soundscape that from its very first notes exquisitely haunts our senses – lilting, occasionally jarring and rising to a crescendo, undulating with the mood of the dancers Claire Galea and Edel Cauchi, joined by Maria Theuma.

Fabrics swirl, the garments flowing and revealing gorgeous detail thanks to inspired choreography by Joeline Tabone (Naupaca Dance Factory). Together with the heroines, the viewer embarks on an intimate journey that transcends words, our emotions in constant flux as we witness the transmutation from innocence to seduction, joy, fear, playfulness, power and… eventually… heartbreak as the narrative lulls us into a false sense of levity before reaching its inevitably devastating conclusion. The metamorphosis is thus complete.

The end result, impeccably recorded for posterity by film-maker James Vernon, is a sublime ode to the power of narrative as Transformations & Translations meets high art in the most spectacular location of all, with the vaulted windows allowing just enough natural light to shine on this performance as to create an ethereal, almost dream-like composition.

A production of this nature would have had considerably less impact had videography not been entrusted to the right person. In this case, the technical prowess successfully exalts the art, the soft tones creating a liminal state that leaves the viewer hovering between the real world and that which lurks in the unconscious.

Transformations & Translations is truly a thing of beauty, and I do recommend not passing up this opportunity to experience it, especially as it has generously been made available online in its entirety. This start to the Three Palaces Festival is just what is needed to lift our sensibilities during these trying times.

The Three Palaces Festival is organised by Festivals Malta. If you enjoy reading about the arts in Malta, take a look at Gabriel Buttigieg’s The Beach collection, Malta arts platform Artz ID, or this digital exhibition by Ray Piscopo.

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