Who is Felix Busuttil in the eyes of Felix Busuttil?
I’ve adored dancing all my life, and I have a marital relationship with it. There’s sometimes love, sometimes frustration, painful moments and even ecstatic ones. It’s often rewarding, and occasionally devastating. Above all, it is fulfilling. I’ve had failures but I’ve always wanted to shine again like a phoenix.
I love people and I love life. I swim in positivism and thank God every day for the air that I breathe, the water that I drink, my two feet, my lungs, my heart, and the joy of listening to a baby’s laugh. I’m a homosexual and proud to be one. I thank God I’m now married in Malta to my husband whom I’ve cherished for twenty years. Above all, I’m a humanist, an environmentalist, and a lover of all that leads us to heaven.
Can you recall your first time on stage?
Very clearly. I remember the first time I had choreographed a piece at the age of thirteen, and a British maestro residing in Gozo speculated to my mother that I should be sent abroad to train. Of course, at such an age, I wasn’t allowed to leave my Gozitan nest. Leaving Gozo to become a Salesian priest was the key for my parents’ permission. During my two years as a novice with the Salesians, my body couldn’t stop moving, and I was calling for attention. They used to call me the dancing priest.
I was then called by Fr Savio Vella to choreograph a rendition of the Great Siege for Savio College within the boarding house. However, the turning point was a tango I had orchestrated for my sixth form soiree at Stella Maris College. Another incredible moment was a standing ovation for my first YADA Dance Company production in 1985. I had taken a bow, and when I lifted my head, I saw the entire theatre on its feet. At this point, I didn’t know this was called a standing ovation.
In your younger years, you had encountered the dilemma of choosing between religious studies and dance. What had attracted you to the clergy, and would you say that your art has a connection with your spirituality?
As a young boy, I’d always had the inclination to serve God and others. I was an altar boy at the Capuchin’s Convent, on the way to Marsalforn. I loved religious theatrics, but I was immersed in spirituality which still permeates today. During the Christmas periods, a small stage was set up in the tiny corridors of the convent, and I was in seventh heaven. Later on, I’d organise performances in my parents’ garage. I used to invite all my junior neighbours to come and watch my novelty shows.
I was then chosen to be an altar boy at the Vatican for the summer months of 1977. There I met the contemporary Salesians and I was besotted. I guess at the time my vocation was true and strong, and all I wanted to do was to serve God and his people, especially his young herd. I thought I could do it through the benefits of art and movement, but this started to create conflict. I was accompanied and coerced to watch a dance class by Fr Savio Vella. I fell in love, and this became my calling.
What are the most important qualities in a dancer?
Consistency, persistence, masochism, endurance, strength, suppleness, emotion, compassion, perception, mathematics, artistry and athleticism. You must be a lover and a demon, gracious and tough, in touch with all of one’s genders and complexities. A copycat and a creator. A teacher and a student. Not a complainer. Not a pessimist. Cognitive, kinesthetic – or rather kinaesthetic – and spiritual. Holistic. A sharer, a facilitator, a mentor and a practitioner. A dancer must love life, love humanity in all its diversity and love people. They must be disciplined, habitual, hard working and perfectionists.
Above: YADA Dancers
What is the dancer’s role in today’s society? How do they contribute towards the grander scheme of things?
Dancers are universal. They share an art that knows no language, no colour, no race, no religion, no sexual orientation, no gender. It’s the perfect medium that represents the fight for equality, agreement and social harmony. Dance has always been humanity’s way of demonstrating both celebration and pain. Unknowingly, we are all dancers, and movement can bring us closer together. Dance nowadays is used as a form of therapy for many ailments – for the terminally ill, Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s patients, autistic children and people with mobile disability. Dance is exercise; it should be done by all. America has its own National Dance Day, created to emphasise the importance of movement and dance in all its genres. There should be a Universal International Dance Day. If we could all dance together, would there be space for hatred, xenophobia, homophobia, terrorism and a lack of compassion?
Above: YADA dancers
What differentiates the Maltese dancer from other nationalities within the profession?
I’ve witnessed a huge change in the development of dance in Malta, and have advocated and lobbied for the creation of a Maltese dance company. Unfortunately, I had wished to be a part of it but was neglected, and I wished that the company had many more components within its ranks that are truly Maltese. I’m not saying that foreign influence, guidance and direction shouldn’t be incorporated through foreign participation, as this advocates diversity. However, the Maltese spirit, culture and aura should be mostly Maltese. Maltese dancers are prepared to take on professionalism and they are tough, resilient and ready to learn and expand their experiences. I don’t think there’s much difference between the abilities of a Maltese dancer and those of foreigners.
Above: Felix Busuttil
What has so far been your greatest achievement in your career?
There’s no end to my road of dance. I still consider my dancers to be my inspiration. I’ll never stop dancing. I guess I’ve aided in the development of dance in Malta. I’ve tried changing the perception of dance; it’s not elitist, it’s for all and mainstream. I could never believe I could produce a dance performance in Malta and sell eight solid pure dance shows at the Mediterranean Conference Centre. I’ve tipped the scale. In my beginnings, there used to be some ten dance schools in all. There are now over fifty. I’ve just graduated and obtained my Masters in Dance Studies (Contemporary Dance) from the University of Malta. I’ve witnessed the birth of a national dance company. Isn’t that a feat for such a small island? I’ve always wanted to see a dancing nation, and I believe my generation has seen that dream become a reality. Where else can we soar?
Above: Felix (first right) with YADA dancers