A short exploration of Lib(r)a, the latest theatre performance from Teatru Santwarju.
Teatru Santwarju presents Lib(r)a, a physical theatre performance conceived and directed by Martina Georgina, who collaborated on the creation of the performance with fellow actors Julia Camilleri and Althea Corlett, and artist Matthew Pandolfino, at Valletta Campus Theatre (VCT) in the Old University Building.
Although Lib(r)a is not the visceral and raw performance that its predecessor Limbus was, it establishes an aesthetic for Teatru Santwarju as a meditative, gynocentric and starkly assimilated theatre. Its reliance on ambience, beautifully crafted and sparse props, symbolism, and the performer’s physicality, make Teatru Santwarju Malta’s quality physical theatre.
Lib(r)a accesses themes of femininity, balance and co-existence, weaving in three distinct characters—the Overthinker, the Temptress, and the Soother—into a loose narrative of sorts, that outlines a struggle for balance. Libra, the astrological scale or balance, is associated with Themis, a Classical Grecian deity of law, divine order and fairness. Not only a feminine presence but also one that exudes calm and wisdom; almost maternal, almost matriarchal.
Spatial dynamics were sparse and well-balanced. The central element was the female body cast or mannequin (hands reaching out as if each holding an invisible weight) on a white, bright womb, from which the three performers emerged before uncovering a cage- or skirt-like structure on wheels, upon which sat the mannequin. The three performers in their languid movements squared the composition beautifully, coming together as a sinewy one and breaking apart just as distinct individuals just as easily.
The performance itself was acutely focused on the female body, at times graceful and beautiful, others awkward and absurd. The body is the medium for communication in physical theatre; no speech is used, only vocalisations that express anger, relief or pleasure and the body sounds—slaps, thumps, scraping.
These sounds are interesting, because they contrasted starkly against the quiet, eerie soundscape, created by Mario Sammut. This soundscape was effectively a setting which outlines a space and time, or the lack thereof.
Treading a thin line between playfulness and violence, the performers—reminiscent of Three Graces—fleshed out the narrative. Their characters emerged through their acting and the dynamics of the relationship with one another. The value of co-existence as a theme is crucial—the bodies/characters are dependent on each other; their common ‘womb’ makes them one, and they seem to seek balance between and within themselves.
What makes the play interesting to explore is its loose symbology. The mannequin on its wheeled, skirt-shaped pedestal, the apples, the body parts—their ambiguous relationship, all the symbols interacting with one another, creates potential for a variety of interpretations.
If one sees the mannequin as ‘mother’, can her body parts describe her: stomach/womb as maker/conceiver, breasts as provider/nourisher, and the hands as maintainer/protector? Do these body parts correlate to the ‘daughters’? Can we perceive the mother/mannequin as ‘home’? Are the apples standing for ‘life being lived’ or temptation?
While more can be said about the exercise of interpreting the performance, Lib(r)a is still a wonderful experience, and a sigh of relief for its being an innovative and high calibre piece of theatre, as well as a happy reminder that Teatru Santwarju is still very much active.
While the performance was superb, Limbus kept hovering behind it, both as a prequel and an expectation. Having seen Limbus, comparison is unavoidable. What had made Limbus so astounding was its viscerality and violence, its rich symbolism and narrative—it felt more akin to ‘theatre’ and felt new back then. Lib(r)a on the other hand is less ‘theatre’ and more physical performance, where the narrative is simplified, the tapestry of the stage and props minimised to better focus on the physicality of the performance.
By comparing to Limbus, the intention is not to find faults with Lib(r)a but rather differences, in that the latter can be better defined, as the creators of both performances remain more or less the same.
Hats off to all involved, as listed below! As usual, we urge everyone to support the local art scene—go and watch the show for yourself!
The performance runs at 2030hrs on the 3rd, 4th & 5th November, at VCT Old University Building, Valletta (ex MITP).
Performers: Julia Camilleri, Althea Corlett & Martina Georgina
Visual Artist: Matthew Pandolfino
Rehearsal Director: Rachel Calleja
Sound Design: Mario Sammut
Light Design: Jimmy Grima
Production Manager: Stjanu Debono
Direction: Martina Georgina
Photo Credits: KarlAndrew Micallef