Notte Bianca: The Coast goes to Malta | Music | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Notte Bianca: The Coast goes to Malta

Shannon Webb-Campbell catches the sights of Malta's all-night arts fest.

Carmel Bonello and Jeremy Ellul

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The royal-like tapestries still hang over the ancient streets, though it’s hard to believe just last night thousands of people crowded the streets of Valetta for the annual Notte Bianca.

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As the full moon hung high in the sky, the city was a spectacle of art, music, performance and culture. From the retro-inspired dancers jiving in rhythm to the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, to an ethereal choir singing hymns at St. Paul’s Cathedral, there was something for everyone at this year’s Notte Bianca.

With parades and marching bands weaving down the narrow streets, restaurants opened their doors, tables set in the alleyways offering candle-lit Maltese meals (rabbit dishes were on nearly every menu) and bottles of wine uncorked.

Tourists from all over the world revelled in the carnival-esque atmosphere below dangling light bulbs, glowing like out-of-place night bugs. Most shops stayed open well passed midnight, offering great deals on summer dresses and jewellery (note: another black dress to make room in the suitcase for).

If it was history you were after, all museums were open for free to the public. Some folks spent hours waiting in line to visit the President’s Palace, the National War Museum, Messina Palace and the Museum of Archeology.

Not to mention the churches opened their door to the public (there are over 365 churches in Malta alone), though it was the signs that read "you are kindly requested to enter the church properly dressed. Mini skirts and sleeveless dresses are unbecoming to the holiness of the house of God" that killed me.

I wandered through these houses of holy wearing strange shawls, scarves and wraps around my shoulders that didn’t match my outfit. I had a chuckle to myself. It’s October and still hot enough to be out in the evening without a sweater or jacket. Something tells me Halifax’s Nocturne won’t be quite as Mediterranean.

Carmel Bonello and Jeremy Ellul
  • Carmel Bonello and Jeremy Ellul

Carmel Bonello and Jeremy Ellul’s modern exhibit 2 Diaries at Heritage Malta’s Head Office, was a correlative exploration of the confessional. Part sculpture, part canvas-based works, the kinship between the two artists is obvious. Ellul credits Bonello as a mentor, inspiring him to make art in a more rebellious way.

Ellul’s “Pink Lady,” a work of fuchsia acrylic on canvas seemed like a modern take Malta’s small historical sculpture of “The Sleeping Lady.” Both Bonello and Ellul seem fascinated in femininity, feminism and the nature of sexuality.

“People in Malta are used to more conservative pieces of art,” says Ellul. “They are not exposed to the same sort of work as the rest of the world.”

As my mind still feasted on modernism, not giving much thought to where I was walking, I found myself at the footsteps of the Toy Museum. The sign promised three floors of nostalgia—a journey through
the memories of your childhood.

There wasn’t much from my own youth, but my grandparents would have enjoyed the toy planes, cars and antique dolls. Personally I started to think the two Euro entry was a bit of a rip-off considering the nature of the evening.

Once I spied the bottle of Glenfiddich behind the sink in the bathroom I felt less intrigued with nostalgia, realizing like everything else in life it’s commodity. We’ll spend money to rekindle old memories we don’t even have.

After abandoning the old toys I made my way to Republic Street and had a lovely chat with fine art photographer Alex Attard. His wife graciously passed me a glass of red wine in a plastic cup while I soaked in his set of six stunning black-and-white images, The Barroco Roll Series.

“They were shot just right here in Valetta,” he says. “I did a little retouching, but for the most part this is it. I was lucky to find some good lighting that day. It makes all the difference, without good lighting you’ve got nothing as a photographer.”

Rich in expression, Attard captured the faces of the performers, who appeared part drag, part baroque, with astounding emotion and skill.

Me, Myself and Rita
  • Me, Myself and Rita

But the true highlight of Notte Bianca was Me, Myself and Rita, a one-girl performance in tribute to the Hollywood’s 1940s glam gal Rita Hayworth. Written and performed by Almog Pail, the show captivated the crowd who gathered for the midnight showing in a basement art and wine bar aptly called, The Gut.

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Pail paid an introspective homage to the Hollywood starlit through video, dance, acting and live music. She portrayed the conflict between Hayworth’s screen and stage life. Heartbreaking in moments, while humorous in others, the show took the audience on a journey through the rise and fall of fame in the not-always glamorous 1940s.

Something tells me I’m not the only one we left The Gut curious to know more about Rita Hayworth, but more over what Pail might be up to next.

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Shortly after 2am I boarded the orange bus back to Senglea, the moon hanging low in the sky. Part of me wished that Notte Bianca could be every night.

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