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This year, Poznań's Malta Festival is celebrating its 20th anniversary! The event, which started as a street festival, or, according to some, an amusement festival, which celebrated our recently regained freedom to be together in public space, has, today, become one of the major artistic festivals in our part of Europe. Focusing initially on spectacular outdoor shows around Poznań's artificial lake (from which it took its name), the Malta began gradually enhancing and diversifying its artistic offer, as it steadily entered new urban space: courtyards, marketplaces, squares and parks, as well as industrial premises, factories and enclosed theatre houses. With time, the diversified offer led to the Festival's division into several themes dedicated to separate areas of art: THEATRE/PERFORMANCE, MUSIC, DANCE, FILM/VISUAL ART, NEW SITUATIONS and VARIA. The 20th edition brings further changes, both in the Festival's image and in its programme.

First of all, we are changing the name: from 'Malta International Theatre Festival' to 'Malta Festival Poznań [+ year]'. This is not merely a matter of cosmetics. On the contrary, it reflects the vital changes which have taken place in the Festival's character. For years, the Malta has not been a theatre festival only. Of equal significance are music, dance, performance and other artistic projects, for example from the field of visual art. It would be difficult to mention all the non-theatre projects, but the examples from the music theme provide a perfect illustration of these events' importance. The Malta guests have included Goran Bregovic, the Buena Vista Social Club, Orchestra BAOBAB, the Tiger Lillies and the Leningrad Cowboys. The Festival has also featured concerts of the music of Jan A.P. Kaczmarek, Wojciech Kilar and Alberto Iglesias. Other spectacular events have included the European premiere of Philip Glass' and Godfrey Reggio's The Qatsi Trilogy Live (2005) and the presentation of the New York music scene featuring Devendra Banhart, Antony & The Johnsons, CocoRosie and Animal Collective (2006). We have also shown the concerts of such stars as Sinead O'Connor (2007) and Elvis Costello (2008), as well as Nine Inch Nails and Jane's Addiction last year. Hence, the designation 'theatre' does not really indicate the nature of the Festival today.

The Malta is an international festival not only by name. It holds a fixed position in the calendar of major cultural events in Europe. Every year, its stages attract outstanding foreign artists (please remember that it was here that we saw companies like Royale de Luxe, Compagnie Off, The Living Theatre, Yvonne Rainer, Pippo Delbono and Zingaro performing in Poland for the first time). For several seasons, the Festival has also been the producer or co-producer of many Polish and foreign shows (for example last year's production of Astor Piazzolla's tango operita, Maria de Buenos Aires, directed by Małgorzata Dziewulska, or the co-production, with Compagnia Pippo Delbono / Fondazione del Teatro Stabile di Torino / Emilia Romagna Teatro Fondazione / Teatro di Roma / Théatre du Rond-Point Paris / Maison de la Culture d’Amiens of Compagnia Pippo Delbono's La Menzogna). Accordingly, it seemed appropriate to make the name more international and, at the same time, following the example of other European festivals, to link it more distinctly to its city. A logical consequence of introducing the new name was the change of the logotype and the image identification.

There is also a change in the programme premise. For the first time in the history of the Festival, we are introducing a leading theme which, in this year's edition, will be the Flemish theatre. This will be the first in the series of three idioms planned to last until 2012. The goal of the Festival’s new theme is to bring the audience closer to and to involve them in the issues of modern culture. An idiom is a concept that is characteristic of a given language and, consequently, a given cultural environment. It is a combination of several words the meaning of which provides a new quality that cannot be directly translated into another language. Using a metaphor an idiom creates a new sense and accurately captures the thought that stands behind it. The MALTA | IDIOMS project indirectly refers to this language source aiming at catching the most significant and innovative phenomena from the language of modern culture. The project is the result of Malta’s maturity and stems from the need to find, within the Festival space, a sphere for exploration – a special laboratory in which it would be possible to describe the violent changes taking place in the surrounding world. We wish to touch these changes through selected artistic phenomena that create an interdisciplinary message in a given field. The project is also a sign of the Festival's readiness to take risks and not fossilise in a safe and reliable formula. It is our belief that The Festival should be something more than simply a review of the artists’ works. It should create room for co-participation and for the sharing of experience; it should be demanding and, concurrently, it should meet the demands of the viewers. The Idioms are an important element of the new programme strategy which is closely linked to the Festival's founding idea: to make a possibly wide audience familiar not only with beautiful and spectacular phenomena, but also with those which are significant. Another important premise is that every edition of the MALTA | IDIOMS will have a curator who is an expert in a given field and has the knowledge and experience required to develop the artistic programme. The curator of this year's Idiom is Sven Birkeland, the artistic director of the BIT Teatergasjen Theatre in Bergen, and expert in the field of Flemish theatre. 

Flemish theatre, similarly to the identity of the national group, is featured by an equivocal approach to the unity it postulates – a detachment from their own language and tradition, on the one hand, and an affirmation of the common cultural background, on the other. Thus, the Idiom incorporates several dimensions: a national, mental and aesthetical one, whilst its goal is to cast light on Flemish culture and theatre. It is an attempt to take a closer look at one of the most unique theatre phenomena in Europe. Flanders, a small community without a formally established state, but with a strong impact on Western culture, has produced a vast number of artists who have defiantly and insightfully commented on the modern times. However, the Idiom is not simply about being a member of this group, but rather about the unique language used by the artists we have invited.  In a way that is often harsh and uncompromising yet extremely poetical this language touches upon the issues of solitude and the 'over-prosperity' of the Western World which is continually reliving its fall – the declared values and high ideals are thwarted by social and political decisions accompanied by widespread submissiveness and hypocrisy. In this world, myths come true once more like ill-boding stories without a moral. The Flemish artists (of different, often non-European origins and backgrounds) produce a polyphony that is open to dialogue with other cultures in which it seeks the remainders of truth and innocence that have been lost to the Old Continent.

Among the invited guests there are artists of world renown who are very rarely presented together in this type of context. They include: Luk Perceval (Flemish director who works mainly on German stages, considered, presently, one of the most brilliant European theatre artists), Alain Platel (world-class choreographer, founder of the group Les Ballets C de la B), Needcompany (a group founded by Jan Lauwers, working on the intersection of contemporary dance, music and drama), Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui (talented Flemish/Moroccan choreographer who cooperates with the composer Szymon Brzóska from Poznań), Jan Fabre and Fumiyo Ikeda (connected to the dance group Rosas, founded by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker) who will do a solo performance directed by Tim Etchells. The programme of the Idiom will also feature some younger artists who have already been noticed and who have already created their own language both in the theatre, dance and in visual art: Tg Stan, Kwaad Bloed, Abbatoir Fermé, Random Scream, Berlin, Miet Warlope and Filip Berte.

The event to open the Festival this year is a two-hour-long concert of Jacques Brel's songs, In Search of the Soul of Jacques Brel at the Poznań Arena. Brel, who sang mainly in French, considered himself a Belgian and did not support Flemish nationalism, albeit he did attach importance to his Flemish roots. He talked about this, for example, in a film that will accompany the concert. Brel's style is exceptional and inimitable; therefore the artists who have been invited to take part in the concert are themselves distinctive and recognisable, as we are not interested in an imitation, but in an interesting and diversified interpretation of his songs. Hence, the concert will feature six artists from six countries: Marc Almond from the United Kingdom (the former singer of the Soft Cell duo), Arno Hintjens from Belgium, Dagmar Krause from Germany and Mouron from France, as well as a performer from Poland whose identity is still to be disclosed. The music settings will be supervised by the Slovenian musician Izidor Leitinger who resides in Paris and the concert will be hosted by the project curator Nick Hobbs and his alter ego Nikolai Galen.

To end the Festival we will propose a completely different musical experience, the concert of Izabella Skrybant and Tercet Egzotyczny directed by Cezary Studniak. This will be a slightly humorous salute to the beginnings of the Festival, i.e. to mass and popular events. The free admittance concert will be staged at Lake Malta and will be, in a way, a farewell to this initial Festival location. Apart from the two large concerts, smaller concerts and Silent Discos will be held every night, just like last year, at the Culture Walkway by the City Gallery Arsenal in the Old Market Square.

Within the THEATRE/PERFORMANCE theme, apart from Flemish shows staged in enclosed venues like Happy Face/ Sad Face (Needcompany), Another Sleepy Dusty Delta Day (Jan Fabre’a and Troubleyn), The Truth About Kennedy’s (Luk Perceval / Thalia Theater), Tourniquet (Abattoir Fermé), Assassins (Random Scream), The Monkey Trail (Tg STAN) and Springville (Miet Warlope), the following companies will present their shows in Poznań's open city space: Compagnie Ex Nihilo (France), Twożywo (Poland), Ondadurto Teatro (Italy), Teatro Due Mondi (Italy), Periplum (United Kingdom), Movements Factory (Poland), Akademia Ruchu (Poland), Compania De Paso (Switzerland/Chile) and Divadlo Continuo (Czech Republic).

As each year, the Festival dance offer will also be extensive and will feature dance shows from the MALTA | IDIOMS – Flanders theme, in addition to the cycle New Dance, Old Brewery at the Malta. The first will include shows like Sutra (Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui), Out of Context – for Pina (Alain Platel / Les Ballets C De La B), In Pieces (Fumiyo Ikeda and Tim Etchells) and Forces (Kwaad Bloed), as well as the solo project Couple Like (performed by Ugo Dehaes and Keren Levi from Kwaad Bloed). The latter will present shows that comprise the programme proposal of the Art Stations Foundation.  

An important change in the NEW SITUATIONS theme will be the abandoning of the hitherto competition formula in favour of a curator's selection which will be developed this year by Monika (Mika) Grochowska.

The events from the FILM/VISUAL ART also look very promising. Despite the fact that the minaret tower will not be built on the chimney located at the intersection of Estkowskiego and Garbary Street during the Festival, Joanna Rajkowska, the author of the already well-known Minaret project, will suggest a specific happening that will be another step in the development of this important and controversial public project. The young Flemish artist Filip Berte, who, in his works, studies the relationship between people and the space that surrounds them, will show one of his interactive and progressively developed installations. We are also planning numerous film shows, for example Bonanza by the Flemish group Berlin. The film is part of their multimedia project, Holocene, in which they depict selected towns.

Furthermore, we are planning to hold a series of meetings between the audience and the artists, as well as an interdisciplinary conference aimed at building an intellectual context for the shows and projects. Through the contact of Polish and Flemish artists and thinkers the conference will bring the phenomenon of Flemish theatre and the issues that are important to its artists closer to the Polish audience.