28 Feb Lara Zammit for Movimento: How writing inhabits choreography
Join us for the first in a series of Movimento appointments for 2023 with our guest expert Lara Zammit, Arts and Culture Editor for The Times of Malta. Curious to get a peek inside her take on movement, ŻfinMalta look forward to hosting Lara who will be exploring the concept of movement viewing through her unique lens as a writer, informed by her background in philosophy.
Who are you?
I tend to approach questions about myself with trepidation, but it might be most useful in this case to present by way of an answer my broadest designation at present, namely that of arts and culture editor at the Times of Malta. Ambrose Bierce wrote in his Devil’s Dictionary that an editor is “a severely virtuous censor, but so charitable withal that [s]he tolerates the virtues of others and the vices of [her]self”. My vices tend to surface more prominently when I wear the hat of a writer than that of an editor.
Most of what I write (and sees the light of day) is within the context of my job, which involves writing feature articles, reviews on all manner of productions across artistic genres and conducting interviews for The Sunday Times of Malta culture section. I spend my workdays waging war against time and the trappings of perfectionism. The longest and most arduous piece of writing I have produced to date is my master’s dissertation in philosophy, in which I wrote some 60,000 words on the preposition ‘with’.
I write about dance with difficulty, but I find contemplation of this artform exceedingly rewarding.
for ŻfinMalta’s Movimento
‘Writing for movement: Questions on choreography’
9th March / 18:30
ŻfinMalta Studios, Valletta
What is your relationship with ŻfinMalta National Dance Company?
I first encountered ŻfinMalta through an interview I conducted with choreographer Tânia Carvalho about her work of contemporary dance Weaving Chaos, performed by ŻfinMalta at the Manoel Theatre in December 2021. Following the interview, I was invited to attend a production of the dance on the opening night. I remember heading to the Manoel after a day of work not quite sure what to expect. I left the theatre half dazed, half in awe. I have had the pleasure of reviewing several ŻfinMalta productions since then, including Requiem for Juliet by Riccardo Buscarini in May 2022. I had written in that review that “we tend to emerge from ŻfinMalta productions deeply connected with the unspoken parts of ourselves”. I feel this captures my thoughts on the national dance company quite clearly.
What is your relationship to movement?
I believe I become most conscious of movement when it is constrained by difficulty – when a bout of anxiety washes over me and I furrow my brow, for example, or I stiffen my shoulders or clench my jaw. Likewise, I become conscious of movement when the difficulty subsides, and my motions become more fluid and unrestricted. I find that my eye often gets drawn to specific kinds of subtle movement in others – a specific way of holding a paring knife or particular handgestures during the process of articulation. Idiosyncratic movements often draw my attention and tend to draw me closer to the people who make them. Movements of an aesthetic or personal quality are the ones that most intrigue me.
What attracted you to start writing for dance?
I wonder if I would have ever started writing about dance had I not stumbled upon the work that I do. Of all the art forms, I find dance to be at once the most far removed from me and the most viscerally moving. I often experience dance with astonishment and perplexity, not least due to its utter physicality and deep connection with music. I write about dance with difficulty, but I find contemplation of this art form exceedingly rewarding.
“I do not presume to present any complete body of knowledge during my upcoming Movimento session, but I do hope that we can squint at the questions that arise from it together in a spirit of curiosity.”
What are you planning to share with us on the 9th March at ŻfinMalta studios?
I was approached with the proposition of discussing movement through the lens of writing. Naturally, I couldn’t help but make this task as difficult for myself as possible. What interests me most about the question is how the concept of writing inhabits the event and practice of choreography, which in its root sense means ‘dance-as-writing’, where the word itself etymologically denotes the actions of dancing (choros) and writing (graphie). I began to wonder upon pondering this question about how writing is employed to capture a dance, whether throughout history with dance notation (take Labanotation for instance, though this was not adopted for common use), or whenever I might write about dance for the paper. It appears that choreography exists at once independently of a performance as the ‘score’ of a dance and concurrently as the dance itself as it is being performed, where it is ‘written’ by the dancers themselves in real time and space. There seems to be resistance to writing in the sphere of dance; the impression is that words tend to escape dance, or that dance exceeds language and cannot be contained by it, where dance is conceived of as non-textual and distinctively organic. A dance is contained not in writing via notation but in dancers’ bodies – a dance is writ in memory and steeped in presence, which is then passed on from the mind and body of one generation of dancer to another. The question of embodiment in dance brings about a distinction between body and subject. “How do we separate the body from a dancing subject?” asks dance theoretician Mark Franko. “How can we know the dancer from the dance?” asks W. B. Yeats in his poem Among School Children. “The dancer is not a woman who dances,” says Stéphane Mallarmé, but “a poem disengaged from the whole writing apparatus.” I do not presume to present any complete body of knowledge during my upcoming Movimento session, but I do hope that we can squint at the questions that arise from it together in a spirit of curiosity.
What do you hope your audience can experience and take away from being a part of your Movimento session?
I hope that my rudimentary reflections will spur some discussion from practitioners on their knowledge of dance and its ‘written’ qualities. I hope that these questions on choreography can open up some avenues of thought among those who hold dance to heart.