What does ‘festival’ mean to you?
It is a cultural institution that at some given time concentrates artistic energy. It may be a month, two weeks or the entire quarter like in the case of the Festival d’Automne in Paris. Festivals can run all year round, even publish books. Festivals have diverse formulas and different objectives. At Malta we work every year with a single theme and develop it together with the artists. This year we even have two themes: ‘New World Order’ and ‘Thomas Mann’. Malta is eclectic, and therefore they can be combined. This does not mean, however, that it is a patchwork. Malta consists of the Idiom, that is the thematic part of the festival, Generator Malta – activities in Wolności Square, the dance programme of the Old Brewery, a music programme, etc. We try to have a comprehensive approach to the programme. We publish books about the artists invited to the festival. We do not combine particular elements at any cost, but we look for mutual links. For example, when the festival’s Idiom was Oh Man, Oh Machine, we organized a concert by Kraftwerk. We define the Idiom, but we also do our best so that other elements, autonomous to a certain extent, refer to it in some way. It does not always work out. Festivals involve negotiations of sorts with the artists, with our own ideas, with the spectators.
Sometimes spectators find it difficult to find their way in Malta’s diversity.
Every element of Malta has its own audience. Theatre circles come to the shows by Needcompany or Romeo Castellucci. Other people participate only in the music programme in Wolności Square. Yet another group comes to the meeting with Dorota Kędzierska and Agnieszka Holland in Jeżyce garden. We give them an opportunity to watch films and talk to the filmmakers. We look for many ways of communicating with spectators who are very diverse and have many needs. I like the melting pot. Spectators can touch upon some important matters and, at the same time, have fun at a concert in Wolności Square. The festival is a time of celebration, and also of conversation.
Does celebrating together define ‘festival’ as such, or is it characteristic of Malta?
The word ‘festival’ derives from the word ‘fiesta’, or holiday. If somebody tells me that a festival should be sophisticated and focused on discussion only, I would answer that they are wrong. People who experience a show, together with a conversation with its creator, want to have fun afterwards. We buck up, and then there’s celebration. That’s what Malta started from. At the beginning of the 1990s, during the euphoria after independence was regained, thousands of people spent their days watching hundreds of artists by Lake Malta. At that time, Julek Tyszka wrote the text Sztuka bycia razem [The art of being together]. Today it’s impossible. There is no similar power amongst the artists, spectators or organizers. That formula is over. There are excellent outdoor events, but everything has been redefined. Our needs, objectives and way of thinking have changed.
But maybe people want to watch the stilt men shows? Aren’t you afraid that we want to talk the audience into something?
During the show by La Fura dels Baus in 2011, around six thousand people gathered in the Old Market Square. This was one of Malta’s most beautiful finales and we will not give it up. But when in 2012 we made a show by Public Movement, the spectators numbered only 50 people, together with our colleagues – the artists. There are simply fewer spectators, even at a festival like Malta which has a tradition of mass participation. The second example is the Roma concert by Lake Malta held three years ago. We wanted to show that the Roma should not only be associated with the Balkans, but also with India, Egypt or the Spanish Andalusia. A the six-hour, free, one of a kind concert was attended by 700 people, while 20 years ago at Bregovic’s concert at Malta there were 30 thousand people. Today, the competition for spectator’s time and attention is enormous.
Are festivals nowadays doomed to compete with other events?
They compete whether they want it or not. We do not complain about the number of spectators at our ticketed shows. However, it is a fact that something has changed in the way people participate in culture, and the festival wants to follow this change. After the euphoria of the 1990s, we looked for a different model. Malta is no longer an alternative festival. We wanted to stay in the “alternative” zone, but we began to become interested in other things. And so in 2006, New Situations came into being, and in 2009 the idea of the Idioms originated. We wanted to make a festival that has something to say. Of course, we did not have to go in that direction, we raised the standard ourselves, and thanks to this the festival speaks today about things that matter and co-creates valuable projects. Malta, involving the city inhabitants, moved to Wolności Square, to Generator. It is an agora and a totem in the city centre. This is a place where children build a map of Latin America, afternoons are filled with debates, in the evening concerts, and at night, DJ sets take place. You can eat something tasty there and then go to a show. Thus, Malta has two branches – the Idiom and the Generator. But one thing will remain constant at Malta – it will keep on changing. At first, critics were mistrustful of the Idioms, treating them as a made-up formula, but now they have got used to them and a belief that it is an interesting idea tends to prevail. The Idiom is a special formula of a conversation with the spectators on a given subject through the shows selected by a curator.
How does Malta choose a curator?
We come to an artist with a specific intention. We don’t ask: “Would you like to be Malta’s curator?”; we ask: “Would you like to be the curator of a specific theme at Malta?”. Romeo Castellucci was the curator of the Idiom Oh Man, oh Machine, because machine is present in his thought on theatre and in his stage projects. Rodrigo García was curator of the Idiom Latin America. Mestizos because he links the two continents. Sven Åge Birkeland is not an artist, but an acknowledged curator, an expert on Flemish theatre who can watch from his fiord what is happening in the lowlands – that was why he was the curator of the first Idiom Flanders. A curator has only once come from Poland – Kasia Tórz, who came up with the concept of Idioms and curated The Excluded. This year Tim Etchells is the curator, because of his distance and irony, and reflections on language are important matters in the context of the subject: New World Order. Next year, the curator will be Lotte van den Berg, who for years has been concerned with the relationship of actor – spectator in public spaces, which is so important to Malta. The point is not to choose the best-known artists so that Malta can bolster its self-esteem. We choose artists who are interesting from the perspective of a specific theme, which they can develop in the way their intuition tells them.
You say “we”. Who do you mean?
For twenty years Lech Raczak was Malta’s artistic director, and since 2010 we haven’t have just one person serving this function. There is a programme team. The times of great artistic directorshave passed. In the context of what happens in culture, in the fluidity which Zygmunt Bauman described, it is impossible to stay within one paradigm.
Is it easier for a team to flow than for a director?
It is definitely more interesting. We can quarrel about the curator, the Idiom, but just one person cannot manage such a big undertaking. Its character lies in diversity and dialogue. What is the social Generator, where you can have fun until dusk, in relation to the opera The Magic Mountain? They are opposites which meet at one platform. There are many such challenges ahead of big undertaking like this, and it has to meet them.
Are Idioms the formula for the coming years?
We have decided on the themes for the next three editions. We will see what happens later. This festival is constantly developing and has to be self-revising. I from time to time make a SWOT analysis for my own use. And I keep repeating: I have been in Malta from “A”, but will not be to “Z”. I still get satisfaction from organizing the festival, but I think that Malta has become so deeply rooted in Poznań that it will function regardless of who runs it.
Did Malta change Poznań?
Today, an exhibition about the 25 years of self-government in Poland was held in front of the Presidential Palace in Warsaw and the only photograph from Poznań presented Malta. From the perspective of a person who knows the city, was born there and shares his life between Poznań and Warsaw, I believe that Malta has left its mark on the city and is still doing so. At the beginning of the 1990s, I never thought that one day we would be speaking about the 25th anniversary of the festival. I only became aware of it after a few editions. We continued, although there were numerous attempts to close us down. For example, in 1994 Henryk Krzyżanowski, spokesman of the president of that time, and Marcin Libicki, city councillor, wrote a protest letter against Malta, because we entered a hospital with a coffin. In that same year, we showed 100 performances for the first time and acquired funding from the European Union. In fact, Malta was the first in Poland to use EU funds. It was also the first to combine different fields of art. When the news about Bregovic’s concert at Malta spread, everybody said we were mad, but then they experienced something unbelievable. Or the show Peplum by Royal de Luxe – thousands of spectators by Lake Malta watched this parody of great Hollywood movies, and Polish Television filmed the full show. The group has never agreed to this before. Where did the band Buena Vista Social Club appear for the first time? Małgorzata Dziewulska once pointed out to me that many of today’s most significant artists appeared in Poznań, at Malta, for their first time in Poland. For instance, Castellucci with Genesi in 2001, Pippo Delbono who came here in 1998 with the show Barboni before his great career in Avignon. These are events which we are proud of, but Malta went through some difficult moments too. Above all, the death of the actress Susan Gandolf onstage in 2002. I am not trying to win anybody over or philosophize, but it undoubtedly affected the next decisions we faced. It was one of the reasons why did not man the barricades fighting for the show Golgota Picnic. We have never turned away from Rodrigo Garcia, but he himself did not agree to stage the show in Warsaw. He took the inconvenient role of a revolutionary, which he played so well. For me, the death of the actress and cancellation of Golgota Picnic were the most dramatic events at Malta. However, I place them in this order. The cancelation of Golgota Picnic was a huge trauma to me, but nothing will bring the actress back to life. Malta has gone through a long and bumpy road. Despite the problems, it persists. Of course, everyone is an expert on it and knows what it should be like. It used to be cool, but now it isn’t. It’s not true. The situation is completely different.
Malta is being accused not only of the fact that it used to be cool, but also of taking away money, of being a hegemon, blocking other initiatives. This is one of the elements of the discussion on festivalisation.
This discussion swept throughout Europe 10 years ago and reached Poland a few years back. In my opinion, it is going in the wrong direction. Even if festivals have big budgets, they do not take 50% or 60% of the funds allocated for culture in the city, but – just like others – collect funds in the so-called contests for non-governmental organisations. Besides, festivals differ from one another and the festival of “pierogi” is called a cultural event and cannot be put in the same category as festivals that present a very high artistic standard. It’s worth fighting for the latter. New, interesting projects which find their niches or offer a globally unique formula are still being created. For example, Camerimage – the festival for cameramen, or Unsound – the electronic music festival in Kraków which for a few years now has had an edition in New York and will soon take place in Adelaide. A festival is a cluster of energy, a lens showing certain issues in a unique way.
Festivals are being accused of using their dominant position in the process of allocating public funds, but also in the so-called event character.
When Krzysztof Penderecki – the most outstanding Polish composer – turns 80, it is obvious we should celebrate it. Arvo Pärt is 80 years old and they built a tower for him, a great centre of music, near Tallinn. This needs to be shown to the whole world. A festival can draw attention to some issues, reveal important matters, has a critical or apologetic function, the function of a fiesta. I initiated the work on The Magic Mountain not in order to satisfy my ego. Mann is one of the most important writers in my life, but not only mine; he is considered to be one the most significant writers of the 20th century. I believe that it is worth pondering today if and why his works are still relevant. The festival is a natural place for such a conversation. Very few operas are written nowadays, so if we can create one, together with our most outstanding Polish actors, then why not?
Are any of the European festivals a particular reference point for you?
Inspirations flow from many directions, from festivals with various formulas. There’s Avignon, Edinburgh, Ruhrtriennale. It is an amazing festival – huge factory floors turned into a place for art. Maybe it is an idea for Silesia? I hold Wiener Festwochen in high esteem, but I used to visit it more often as the director of TR Warszawa, because it was our partner and co-producer. I follow with great interest the festival in Manchester, joining together music, theatre and opera (Damon Albarn makes his operas there). At Malta we also bring together various fields of art, we often show premieres of music events, but premieres are the organizing principle of Manchester. Every two years, the festival presents its own projects which tour the world afterwards. Malta does not have such a budget. However, we often are the initiator, producer or co-producer, we generate new situations. I think this is one of the tasks of a festival. Our big success is the opera Slow Man by Nicholas Lens and John Maxwell Coetzee. This year, we are the producer of The Magic Mountain by Paweł Mykietyn, Małgorzata Sikorska-Miszczuk, Andrzej Chyra and Mirosław Bałka, and Romeo Castellucci’s Doctor Faustus. Such projects require determination and long-term thinking. Talks with Paweł Mykietyn about The Magic Mountain began five years ago. We collaborate with other festivals and theatres, but Malta has its own unique character, determined by the Idiom and the Generator, and we don’t want to pretend we something else. We are also the member of the HoF network, to create different things together with the best European theatres and festivals.
Polish repertory theatre rarely presents foreign shows. It is a convenient situation for the festival?
I have never thought about it. Many Western theatres, for instance in Belgium, the Netherlands or Italy, have a character of a management company where shows are produced by groups which receive money to tour festivals and theatres. Here, we have the tradition of a theatre group. It may make things easier for the festival, but it sometimes causes problems too, since, as a consequence, Malta hardly ever presents Polish plays. We focus on those shows which cannot be seen elsewhere in Poland and on those which we produce. I don’t know if an opportunity to watch foreign shows in Warsaw would change anything. But I would definitely want Malta’s productions to be shown outside Poznań. The Magic Mountain will be a co-production which will be shown not only in Poznań, but also in Kraków and Gdańsk.
Are presentations of Malta’s productions in other Polish cities a new path for Malta?
I would like that, but it will depend on financial and art-related factors. At the moment, we are focusing on Arkadia, which gives us some new possibilities. The vast space and the terrace overlooking Wolności Square make you feel alive. But above all, the new place makes it possible to work with the audience bath before and after the festival. Now, it’s two or three months before Malta starts, but we would like to extend these activities to the whole year, organizing Malta meetings once a month. That’s what we are striving to achieve. This is a new direction for Malta.