The Malta Independent 22 October 2018, Monday

Understanding conflict through dance

Tuesday, 7 November 2017, 13:55 Last update: about 13 months ago

With Music in Motion hitting the Valletta Campus Theatre stage this Friday, Iggy Fenech chats to MALAIKA SARCO-THOMAS from the Department of Dance Studies of the University of Malta about the event

There are times when destiny seems to play tricks on us; when coincidences are just too perfectly timed to be just coincidences. That could be said about Music in Motion, the latest serving by Modern Music Days which connects dance to 20th century music

exploring the theme of 'conflict' - something that is certainly timely in Malta.

The project, however, has been in the works for a while and is the prelude to Contra: Dance & Conflict, an international conference taking place in Malta next year, and which is being organised by the newly-created, US-based international Dance Studies Association (DSA).


"The DSA was formed when the Society of Dance History Scholars and the Congress on Research in Dance merged," explains Malaika Sarco-Thomas, who is on the conference organising committee, and will be taking care of the proposals sent in, the development of the programme and the sourcing of keynote speakers, among other things. "This merger has created the largest scholarly association of dance in the world, and we had our first inaugural conference earlier this year in Ohio, USA.

"Malta will be the first European country to host a Dance Studies Association conference, and it couldn't be better placed: at the crossroads of Europe, the Middle East and Africa, it is an ideal location to support cross-cultural conversations on conflict through dance."

Around 400 scholars are expected to touch down on Malta for the conference taking place in Valletta between 5 and 8 July 2018, which was secured after the Department of Dance Studies at the University of Malta (UM) put together the winning proposal for the theme. Moreover, it will now be taking place as part of the cultural programme for Valletta 2018 but, before that, Music in Motion will give local audiences a taste of what's to come.

Organised by Modern Music Days - which has given us musical installations like Bandli and visual-collaborations like Rhythms of Vision - Music in Motion will see six students from the Department of Dance Studies present four new choreographies to modern string quartets by Philip Glass, Alfred Schnittke, John Adams and Norma Beecroft. This will be part of the final year students' tour having just returned from France where they were performing the pieces to a playback recording. In Malta, however, the music will be performed live by Zene Quartet featuring Vincenzo Picone and Klara Nazaj on violins, Ayako Omoto on the viola and Akos Kertesz on the cello.

"Music is one of the most profound languages that we all speak; dance is a vehicle for communication and discovery for ourselves," continues Malaika, who on top of being a dancer and choreographer herself, is also a dance teacher, writer and scholar. "Together, dance and music will create the opportunity to explore the theme of 'conflict' on various levels."

Choreographing the pieces for Music in Motion are well-known Maltese dance artist Francesca Tranter, French choreographer Niels Plotard, Danish actress and director Marie Keiser-Nielsen, and Vancouver-based Swedish dance artist Emmalena Fredriksson; and each of the choreographers has taken a different route to explore conflict through dance.

Niels, who is a creative artist in residence for ŻfinMalta, has taken on personal conflict at an individual level; Emmalena, meanwhile, is looking at the conflict within representation of genders (how society expects women to behave vs. how they actually behave). Francesca's piece explores relationships that may be poisonous between one another, and looks at things like politics and social media in the process; and Marie works with figurative animals as motifs to give us the story of Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Match Girl, which looks at child-parent, as well as coming-of-age, conflict.

"The brief to choreographers was to explore the conflict we, as humans, experience at various stages in our lives," adds Malaika. "The string quartets were selected by Ruben Zahra, the artistic director of Modern Music Days, and it's been an absolute joy seeing the pieces come together as each choreographer took a different approach to showcase how dance can become a way of portraying and resolving conflict."

As time ticks for the international conference, and as conflict continues to dominate the news, Contra: Dance & Conflict seems all the more poised to be a timely discussion. In fact, recent events have led the Dance Department to dedicate the performances of these works to France to one journalist in particular: "We took the decision to dedicate the France performances to the memory of Daphne Caruana Galizia and her willingness to face conflict; and her dedication to illuminate controversial activities at a local, national and international level," concludes Malaika.


Music in Motion, which is being organised by Teatru Manoel and the Malta Association for Contemporary Music as part of the cultural programme for Valletta 2018 European Capital of Culture, will take place this Friday 10 and this Saturday 11 November at the Valletta Campus Theatre in Valletta (ex-MITP). The event is free of charge, but booking is required via Teatru Manoel website:

  • don't miss