Florinda Camilleri, Niels Plotard, Johannes Buch and Greta Muscat Azzopardi | The Amber Spark
"Nothing beautiful can be summarized." 
~ Paul Valery

The Amber Spark was a three-year experiment that I immersed myself into together with fellow creatives Johannes Buch, Florinda Camilleri and Niels Plotard. At the time, we were all based in Malta. When I first read about it in a magazine somewhere in 2017, The Amber Spark was already a Limited Liability Company set up by Florinda and Niels as their container for doing creative work. I immediately connected with their intentions and sent them an email asking if they were up for meeting. We connected and long story short, The Amber Spark (or TAS as we called it for short) soon had four directors. As Niels said in an interview much later “no one we talked to thought that having four directors was a good idea”. But we went for it anyway. This is us somewhere in 2018.

The three years of TAS were years full of creativity and inspiring artistic projects (you can see a little social media snapshot here). With Flo being a dancer (and a pharmacist), Niels an all round creative artist (who does dance, photography, video, sound and all kinds of things in between), Jo a graphic designer, and me a facilitator and writer, the work we did spanned across multiple sectors, countries, entities and spaces.

One of our biggest challenges was to figure out how to talk about what we did in a coherent way that was simple for others to understand. With such diversity between us, it was not the case of an easy to find target audience with a clean list of services to match. We called ourselves a studio and a collective and did our best to make our common structure represent the four of us in an honest way. The video below is us talking about this in a live conversation (Jo is temporarily missing due to baby – parent dynamics and the realities of home working) we did as a way of reflecting on our work together.

A snippet from an interview we did to reflect on our work together. Sorry about the silent snippet at the beginning, speaking starts a few seconds into the clip.

Somewhere in 2019 we decided to liquidate the company simply because it had become an administrative monster that took more of our time and headspace than any of us wanted to dedicate to admin. Aside from the company being our official work container, we entangled our lives together in various ways, including moving into a big house together along with little Robin who you might be able to vaguely hear in the clip above. The company structure was our original way of creating as much stability as possible for ourselves and we extended this by pooling our incomes and having many shared house resources including the main part of our grocery supplies that we created a common budget for.

Despite clear differences in needs, how we defined autonomy, ways (and times) of working and many transformative personal journeys including immersion into parenthood, moving away and back, relationship dynamics and much more, we really managed to maintain a sense of overall harmony and trust which I am extremely grateful for. For much of our time together, we started Mondays with a week preview circle, ended Fridays with a look at our week and held many house meetings over Saturday morning pancakes. There were some house parties (perhaps fewer than we thought there would be), many rituals and some ceremonies to mark important transitions. Without a doubt these practices were central to our well-being through so much experimentation with structures that are so integral to how we live our lives and interact together.

In the subtitle I promised traces, simply because it is impossible for me to do this experience justice if I try to be exhaustive in any way. I’m going to end this post with two poems that Florinda and myself wrote as our way of reflecting on our time together. Perhaps poetry can transmit something a little more abstract and probably a little more deep than the rest of the words here can.

The Amber Spark 

An experiment in togetherness
with radical trust,
a company
in company
of strangers 
I felt strangely connected to
and grew to love.
So many hours
and days 
spent in circle
listening, talking, 
listening for the unsaid
and saying it.
Practicing life
and love
and work
and friendship
in beautiful stone spaces 
and gardens
lit up with the spark
of our hope.
A shape that we formed 
to support ourselves 
and each other,
testing our separateness 
and oneness
finding our edges
and waiting impatiently 
for things to become 
crystal clear.
Eventually we outgrew
what we started,
composting the rigid structure
that gave us the idea
we were something 
that we could define
if we tried hard enough
or talked long enough;
yet never managed to.
Our next steps diverge
yet the field of our trust
is always there,
ready to spark other fires,
equipped with all that 
we embody from this experience. 
Wiser, more translucent, 
more able to dance 
to the music 
all around.

We sit in a circle.
Coffee, breakfast, construction sounds.
How are we feeling today?
We mindfully pour out mind, heart, and soul.
Thank you for sharing.
What’s happening this week?
How’s the cash flow looking?
There seem to be some communication issues here.
How can we approach this respectfully and honestly?
Let’s look at the communication thus far.
This can’t possibly be acceptable. We need to ask boldly but nicely. 
Let’s look up some legal docs while we’re at it.
A conversation into work ethic ensues.
A deep questioning of who we are and what we stand for, follows.
More tea.
We shift in our seats. Necks start to ache.
We seem to be talking about different things.
But we are getting somewhere.
Hungry is where we’re getting.
Lunch. Shared yumminess. Always with a sweet finale.
And a coffee.
Let’s get back to it.
It’s uncomfortable. 
More questioning, more reflection.
Let’s try this exercise.
I don’t have much to share.
But that’s OK.
So many things float around in the realm of consciousness but outside the realm of language.
We can feel them, we just can’t say them.
So we smile. frown. stretch. scratch. drink. snack.
Live with that lump in the throat.
Fall into that lump in the throat.
I can’t say that, it would hurt too much. Do I even mean it?
I don’t mean it.
It goes against our principles.
Awkward silences. Aching shoulders.
We must come to a conclusion together. 
But we’re all tired.
Tired of finding solutions, tired of compromise, tired of 
feeling as though we constantly need to guide others for them to do their own jobs.
But we are creatives. 
We find solutions.
Four good minds, plenty of passion, plenty of talent.
We have all the solutions we need if only we 
found a way to unlock them.
It’s dark now. 
The streetlights are on, it’s time to stop.
The to-do list is the same as this morning’s,
actually it’s longer.
What are we even doing here?
Going around in circles?
Time for closing thoughts, 
and hugs,
warm embraces.
A few moments of holding and being held.
And there, everything belonged. 
The questions, the analyses, the discomfort, 
the things left unsaid,
the things said painfully,
the worry,
the fear and anxiety, the mistakes,
the tears,
the burning of bridges, the closing of doors, the friction,
the tug of war by four…
the mischief, the giggles,
the crumbling of cookies and the cookies crumbled,
the sharing, the listening, the nurturing,
the learning, failing, falling, growing,
the deepened listening,
the deepened feeling,
the deepened loving,
everything belonged. 
Everything belongs.

The cast of Threaded Fine by Rosemary Lee

I’m still holding the threads inside my body and feel deeply affected by the experience. I’m also scared that it will all fade away too quickly and that I will forget. Which is partly why I am writing about it.

From the moment I heard about Malta forming a National Dance Company quite a few years ago, I was more than a little intrigued. Dance formed a crucial part of my childhood and teenage years but I put it aside at the age of around 17 although it never quite left me. I went to one of Zfin Malta’s first shows, Erbgħa (4) at the Astra Theatre in Gozo in 2015 and fell a little bit in love. Five years later, I find myself dancing in my favourite Zfin project to date, which feels more than a little surreal and definitely a dream come true for me.

The Dance Of Life

Starting from the youngest dancer (age 8) and moving in ascending age order to the oldest (age 76), Threaded Fine is a ceremony that each dancer performed as themself. In our consecutive solos we all went through the same cycles; movements born out of Rosemary’s verbal instructions and occasional imagery. We followed cosmic orbits that eventually led inside our bodies, we shimmered like fish, we treaded like bears, we brightly woke up the world, we made ourselves dissolve at the edge of the circle, we ran, we allowed ourselves to be truly, authentically seen in our vulnerability, we let our dance die and eventually led the next dancer into the circle to take over. The dance felt real, necessary, timely and important, accessing deeper parts of myself each time I danced.

In Circle

Rosemary created what definitely felt like the most level and democratic playing field I have ever worked in. Young, old, professional and novice, we were all treated with utmost respect, appreciation and attention. We started each session in circle, we learnt to celebrate the different ways we all move, we were encouraged to learn from each other. Rosemary’s facilitation and hosting created a safe holding space that coaxed out our best.* It’s not often that I fully trust a structure. I struggled at many points in the process as I learnt the movements, the cues and explored my own body’s way of interpreting them. The overall feeling of care, however, made it impossible for me to cling to my doubts and I just had to fully trust instead. The result of this trust was a bigger reward than I could have ever imagined.

Singing Our Song Out Into The World

I felt lovingly encouraged to be unapologetically myself in my dance. To be more deliberate, more curious, more brave. What I learnt about my dance applies fully to the rest of my life. Slow down, soften, allow yourself to feel, look out, let go fully. My very own set of reminders for living a fully present, fully embodied life. ** The gratitude I have for all this is endless.***

Threaded Fine - Rosemary Lee

*I really wish more leaders had the ability to create exactly this dynamic. **A Podcast by Tara Brach on the subject, that the wonderful Florinda pointed me to on performance day, helping me really drop into my body. ***None of this would have been possible without a very wonderful man called Jo who patiently brought our little Robin for breastfeeding dates during rehearsals and gave me his full love and support throughout this experience. Grazzi ħafna!