‘…mortals and immortals
with my tales rejoice.’
(Odyssey, X 346-47)

Eight international storytellers from Austria, France, Greece, Israel and Italy and a number of Maltese storytellers will be participating in the First International Storytelling Festival organized by the Department of Maltese at the University of Malta G. F. Abela Junior College to be held in Malta for students and the general public in Floriana and Valletta from 11 to 13 December. The Festival is being organized in collaboration with the Enzyklopädie des Märchens at the Academy of Sciences, Göttingen, Germany, the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Malta, the Austrian Embassy in Malta, the Istituto Italiano di Cultura in Malta, and the European Commission Representation in Malta.

The official sponsors of this cultural event are Middlesea Valletta Life Assurance Company Ltd, the Malta Council for Culture and the Arts, the Ministry of Education, St James Cavalier, Farsons Foundation, Publishers Enterprises Group (PEG) Ltd, the University of Malta Junior College Administration, Casa Rocca Ltd (Valletta), Park Hotel (Sliema), Heritage Malta, the Malta Photographic Society, the Malta Tourism Authority and Air Malta. State and private schools have already booked their students to participate. The venues include Robert Samut Hall, in Floriana, and St James Cavalier, the Istituto Italiano di Cultura and Casa Rocca Piccola in Valletta.

A Greek Master Storyteller

Stelios Pelasgos is a Greek master storyteller and a well known scholar and researcher in the Greek oral tradition. He initiated the revival of the art of storytelling in Greece and Cyprus since 1990. He holds a PhD degree in the use of the storytelling of Greek folk literature in education referring to the methods of traditional apprenticeship of storytellers using multiple intelligences and its applications in modern education. He travels extensively giving storytelling performances for adults or children and conducting storytelling workshops. He applies the traditional oral lore in special projects for children with special needs, including the prevention of drug use and the integration of old narrators in education. His performances include traditional or improvisational music. His storytelling is typical of the Greek oral tradition trying to integrate the epic style of the myths of Greek antiquity in the folk style of the Medieval Greek oral literature.

 

His repertoire and style are characterized by sudden leaps from the grotesque and comic to the serene and detached, reflecting his lifelong interest in the meaning and function of the archetype of the wise fool in the Mediterranean and eastern oral traditions. He is also an author of children’s literature, author and director of theatrical plays. He performs in Greek, English and French. He speaks Greek, English, French and Italian. Stelios Pelasgos Katsaounis will be participating in the Malta Storytelling festival with stories of the Wise Fool that are found in ancient Greece (Aesop’s fables and philosophical comic stories), in the eastern tradition of Nasrhrentin Hotza, in Georgian fables, Indian stories and zen stories from Japan.

Domniki Mavridou is a traditional musician. She has studied Byzantine and traditional music as well as folk musical instruments manufacture. She holds diplomas in the Medieval Greek music and teaches in the Music School of Volos. She plays ‘canun’, a Byzantine instrument common in North Africa, East Mediterranean and Near East. Canun is considered the piano of Byzantine and Arabic-Persian music for its major importance in composing and performing. It is exceptionally suitable for accompanying the human voice and Mavridou has been accompanying the storytelling performances of Stelios Pelasgos since 1994. She mixes seamlessly traditional Greek and eastern tunes with improvisations (‘taxim’) enhancing the different mood of each folk story and creating small oasis of pure sound and serenity amid the excitement aroused by the storyteller.

 

A Storyteller and the Karagoz theatre

Yoel Perez is another storyteller. He is a lecturer within the Department of Hebrew Literature in Ben Gurion University, Israel. He has been editor (1997-2003) or member of the editorial board of Mizracha Lashemesh, Ma’arava Layareach, a scientific journal for storytelling and folklore (in Hebrew). He has taught courses in folklore and literature to students of a second degree in Ben Gurion University and Achva Academic College. He has been presented with various awards, including ‘HaRashut HaLeumit LeLadino’ (2002) and the Bar Ilan University 2006 for scientific work in the field of Ladino Folklore. He has authored books and articles, notably Professional Storytelling: Trends in Research of the New Art of Storytelling in Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Folklore (2005).

For the Malta Storytelling Festival, Perez will be bringing with him his Karagoz theatre. He has restored the original theatre, using electric bulbs and plastic, but the figures are traditional, including Karagoz, Hachiwat and so on. He makes use of Jewish-Spanish folktales as a basis, but it is Karagoz who opens the piece and presents the story after he quarrels with Hatchiwat.

A Storyteller from Wales

Another storyteller is Dr Robin Gwyndaf, born in Llangwm, North Wales, an area famous for its rich musical, storytelling and bardic tradition. For many years as a child and in his youth he used to recite poetry and prose in numerous Welsh festivals of song and dance, poetry and recitation, arts and crafts. Since 1964 he has been on the staff of St Fagans National History Museum, formerly known as the Museum of Welsh Life, near Cardiff. A former head of the Department of Cultural Life, he has interviewed hundreds of informants and recorded thousands of items of narrative, folk traditions and folk poetry. He was also honorary lecturer in Folklore, Department of Welsh, University of Wales (1982-99). In 2006, on retiring, he was made an Honorary Research Fellow. Gwyndaf has authored hundreds of studies and produced a series of sound cassettes on Welsh folk culture. He lectures regularly in universities and ethnographical institutions abroad and his contribution to ethnology and folklore was recognised by the award of ‘International Folklore Fellow’ (1993) and his election to the First International Board of the European Centre for Traditional Culture in Budapest, under the auspices of UNESCO (1995). As remarked by John Williams Davies, Director of St Fagans, Robin Gwyndaf ‘has been the voice of Welsh folklore for as long as most people remember and is known not only in Wales but also world-wide. His commitment to the Museum and to the task of recording our storytelling heritage has been tremendous.’

The festival programme will be published in due course. Three conferences for the general public will be held on

• The Storyteller’s Way of Mastering and Educating the Interpersonal and Intrapersonal Intelligence (in English) by Dr Stelios Pelasgos of Greece purposely addressed to teachers and educationalists and to be held on December 11 at St James Cavalier at 16.30;
• the Function of Folktales in Contemporary Society’ (in French and Maltese) by Agnès Chevanon, a French storyteller of international renown, to be held on December 11 at St James Cavalier at 18.30; and
• The Function and Value of Storytelling (in English) by Dr Robin Gwyndaf of Wales to be held on December 12 at St James Cavalier at 18.30.

 

First published on 9th September, 2006 by The Malta Council for Culture and the Arts.