A Portrait of Michal Mualem

by Maria Vitanova

 

A woman in red comes out on stage. Wrapped in a red knotted string, that is, but she might as well have been in an elegant red dress, if we judge by her presence. Slowly, she frees herself from the knots, from the plonter, attaching the string to four wooden pillars at the corners of the stage, building a square. She never breaks out from the square. “It´s a house” – she explains. “Or a palace.”

A member of the audience thoughtfully remarks: “If you had a plonter and you managed to untie it and build a beautiful palace out of it, you don´t want to break it.”

Michal Mualem doesn´t break, she builds. This is the impression that stuck with me as I had the chance to take her to a lovely dinner after the performance, and listen to her never-ending stories about learning, staying open, and leaning into the process.

“I never thought of creating a solo piece just for myself. But there was one particular solo in another piece where I worked with strings, that was part of a quartet we did 12 years ago. And I always liked this solo but the quartet only played 8 times and didn´t really have a future. But this solo stayed in the back of my mind to develop. So we – 2 other women and I – took it as the base for another piece, but it ended up going into a completely different direction and again, the solo didn´t find the right place.

In a way the Covid situation gave me a chance to finally put it together. The director of company Naturalis Labor based in Vicenza Italy, offered me to create a piece for a solo evening he created. Finally I had a place for this solo.”

But it wasn´t just the practical obstacles that prolonged the birth of Plonter. It is a very intimate piece about being stuck, breaking out, and about the patience required to do so.

“I like to share something when I´m out on a stage. If you want to share something it has to be something that is important for you, something that comes from deep in yourself. So I don´t just want to show something, I want to share something. Of course, in the performing arts, you are on stage and you´re also showing, but the initial place where I´m creating from is from this wish to share. So intimacy is a part of this – a little bit like in a relationship. When I perform I have a certain relationship with the audience.”

She says that jokingly, but her dancing partner, Gianalberto de Filippis, is indeed her partner in life. She meets him through working with Sasha Waltz and in the beginning they mainly teach dance together. I couldn´t help but notice that teaching, just like performing, is a way of giving, too. But the dancer distinguishes between the two: While it´s always about sharing, teaching is the clearer form of giving. On my question about what she receives, she smiles.

“Helping the other person take the next step forward is the biggest reward.”