Press

With a Refined Sense of Reality a Theater Tale...

11/11/2016

It’s been eight years since the Tbilisi International Festival of Theater became the main yearly event in theater society...

Eight years since theater lovers first started eagerly awaiting the beginning of autumn, when the International Festival of Theater opens the new theatrical season...

Eight years since Georgian theater companies first started gathering in the capital city to share their experiences with the audience, foreign critics, producers and festival directors...

Eight years since each autumn, Tbilisi has hosted a theatrical forum that ignites emotions and passions on various stages, storming with creativity and reminding everyone that Georgian theater is alive and evolving...

Eight years since the festival team first started working “with a refined sense of reality” and allowing Georgian (and other) audiences to travel through the magical world of modern theatrical processes...


It is no coincidence that the motto of the festival is “with a refined sense of reality”. This modern, multi-genre theatrical forum, which is the biggest in Eastern Europe, depicts reality in an artistic, theatrical language. Every year (and on purpose), the Festival program is diverse and presents not only a mix of cultures from different continents, but also a variety of contemporary theater genres.

This year’s Festival took place in the same spirit, with the participation of a company from the Far East – Japan (Suzuki Company of Toga) and from the extreme North – Norway (Kari Hoaas Productions). Many other nationalities also performed along with them – Ukrainians, Russians, Armenians, British, Poles, Germans, Indians... and all participants in the Festival had in common a certain refinement, artistic perfectionism and theatrical subtleness, and they were diverse in their ways of depicting reality and their radically different cultural traditions.


The Festival marathon was opened in the Marjanishvili Theater by the Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company, which performed a two-part play named ‘Within’. The first part of the performance, “Knotted”, explores the Indian theater dance form Kathak in its classical version, while the second part, “Unwrapped” allows us to discover a version of Kathak that has been modernized by the world-renowned choreographer and dancer. The Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company was performing in Georgia for the first time and left an indelible impression on its Georgian audience (especially non-verbal theater lovers), even though the festival’s audiences are already well acquainted with the dance genre in question, as they have seen Akram Khan’s unforgettable ‘Kaash’. With this performance, Mangaldas proved her originality and her particular faithfulness to Indian dance, as she works not only on external means of expression, but also on internal emotions and details. These details are actually what the genius and charm of this choreographer are about, allowing us to understand her views on the world and on people with methods that, at a glance, are not advantageous.


For the first time in the festival’s eight-year history two new directions appeared in the international program: on-screen theater and street theater. In the frame of the festival, we were able to see Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theater’s new version of Hamlet, with a woman playing the main character (Hamlet – Maxine Peake) and one of the London’s National Ballet’s latest and most popular plays – ‘Hamlet’, starring Benedict Cumberbatch. On the screen, in the televised version of the play, the genius of the dramaturgy could still be felt. In the performance, both tradition (the performing style of the actors) and innovation (the scenography) were present.


By inviting street theaters to participate, the Festival increased its genre diversity as well as the audience segment and scale, as two performances (Polish and British) that took place in New Tiflis were witnessed by random passers-by who became part of the plays by accident. During the interactive street performance ‘Peregrinus’ (Theater KTO, Poland), hundreds of people became involved and started following the actors around on the newly renovated Aghmashenebeli Avenue, while the actors played
prototypes of us and them, people who have been turned into robots by daily routine. On Saarbrucken Square, the British company Still House told us the tale of horses and their riders with dances and audiovisual installations, also involving the energetic audience in the riding marathon and making them a part of the performance.


The Dakh Daughters Band from Ukraine turned out to be a real surprise, the girls igniting a fire of genuine and sincere emotions on a wooden stage specially built for the performance in the Movement Theater. The musician-performers bombarded the audience with a sea of emotions and positive energy, and, despite the sad, tragic and lyrical stories of the play ‘Roses, the audience became entirely involved in the performance- with the stage and the pit becoming one. The artists radiated a cascade of positive emotions like a scent of roses and, with the audience, they created a rock opera, promoting exploration of new forms of contemporary popular music and presenting a necessary context for our modern life. With natural grace, the “thorned rose” girls managed to break through the walls of boredom of the gathered audience and to give them a tremendous amount of positive energy and love.


The culmination of the Festival, The Marriage of Maria Braun, was performed in the Rustaveli Theater; a production of Berlin’s renowned Schaubuhne Theater directed by Thomas Ostermeier based on the original movie script of Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Schaubuhne and plays by its artistic director are especially loved in Georgia. Thomas Ostermeier was introduced to the Georgian audience last year, with Henrik Ibsen’s ‘An Enemy of the People’. The play was much appreciated by the audience and interest in Ostermeier’s plays has since increased greatly within professional circles. The story of Maria Braun, performed on the main stage of the Rustaveli Theater, was no disappointment and convinced the theatrical society that Schaubuhne’s  artistic director is an inexhaustible source of imagination who, using conditionality, a simple and plain theatrical language, can express in the duration of one play the constant shifts in not only epochs (and with them, people), but also atmospheres.


He manages this with details, minimalist scenography laws and extreme conditionality. ‘The Marriage of Maria Braun’ is the story of a woman who, along with her strengths, has many weaknesses, just like any other person. It shows us the life of a determined person, full of difficulties, challenges and adventures; her journey allowing us to discover persons characterized by a huge variety of aspirations, wishes and views. Thomas Ostermeier’s play is a lesson of sorts, teaching us about life and finding solutions to seemingly hopeless situations.


The second gem of the festival was the original, mystical and unforgettable ‘Songs of Lear’ by Song of the Goat, a Polish theater company the Georgian audience was already familiar with – but ‘Songs of Lear’ inscribed them in the memories of Georgian theater enthusiasts forever. This year, the founder of the company, director Grzegorz Bral offered us the third act of Anton Chekhov’s ‘Portraits of the Cherry Orchard’. The musical interpretation of Chekhov’s drama (the director chose this specific genre for the play, though the author saw it as a comedy) was composed by Guy Pearson and Maciej Rychły. The storyline of the play revolves around the feelings brought about by leaving the lost paradise – the cherry orchard (which is a symbol of former greatness and spoiled values), expressed through usual methods (gestures, mimes, movement and vocals) by Grzegorz Bral. Carrying the relations between the characters and their emotions through this form is more than enough to transmit the idea and bewitch the audience. Bral’s performances look like mystic rituals that have an emotional impact on those who do not look at the performance and only listen to the actors’ voices, or vice-versa. After the performance, a meeting with critics was arranged, during which the Polish director said that to him, the cherry orchard represented the parting from an inexistent greatness (or values). Perhaps, in our real lives, we also grieve over things that never actually existed or are long lost...


The international program of the festival was closed by an exotic performance from the Suzuki Company of Toga. Japan is one of the only nations in the world to boast its own traditional national theater, in the form of “Kabuki” and “Noh”. As for the European theater model, it was adapted to national Japanese traditions, and what we saw with ‘Trojan Women’ was a perfect example of the combination of these two traditions; despite visual stillness, it managed to convey clear, deep feelings and ideas. The play didn’t need to use bodies to their fullest: legs (and more rarely, arms) and Euripides’ text were the main instruments relaying the mood and inner feelings of the characters.


Foreign visitors were met with quite a diverse Georgian showcase program, including not only scenic interpretations of classic European or Georgian dramaturgy, but also plays based on contemporary Georgian and foreign theater texts. Both new theater directors and experienced masters presented their works in this section, and over four days, the theater stages of the capital showcased plays of different genres, styles, forms and aesthetics, from Tbilisi, but also from various regions of Georgia. Regional theaters (from Poti, Chiatura, and Zugdidi) held an honorable spot in the main program of the Georgian Showcase section, which shows that Tbilisi is not the only place in Georgia where interesting and artistically accomplished, valuable plays are being created...


An important part of the program was dedicated to children’s plays and puppet theater (‘The Story of the Roebuck’, ‘Unpublished Novel’, ‘Faust’, ‘Diamond of Marshal de Fiante’); apart from drama theaters, the program included non-verbal performances (the Movement Theater’s ‘The Tempest’) as well as independent, experimental projects (Dato Khorbaladze’s ‘Sorrow’).

Georgian theater particularly loves Shakespeare (Youth Theater’s ‘Much Ado about Nothing’ and the Actors’ Theater’s ‘King Lear’) and fortunately enough, our theater has been transforming him into almost some kind of a national playwright for centuries, and he now became as successful as Georgian poet Vazha-Pshavela (‘Host and Guest’, Akhmeteli Theater). Robert Sturua’s adaptation of Brecht’s ‘The Exception and the Rule’ turned out to be no less interesting, as did Levan Tsuladze’s non-verbal drama ‘Begalut – In Exile’ (based on Shalom Aleichem and Guram Batiashvili’s novels)


Professional circles are still discussing several premieres presented in the Georgian Showcase section. These creations offer food for thought and allow us to hope that Georgian theater is searching for new, original and autonomous ways to convey suffering and share it with its audience. In this regard, the Royal District Theater’s ‘Prometheus/25 years of independence’, Paata Tsikolia’s ‘Aiik’ performed at the Music and Drama Theater, and Guram Matskhonashvili’s ‘13th of June’ at the Puppet Theater were of particular significance... These three plays are based on new Georgian theater texts, which means that contemporary Georgian dramaturgy is trying to keep pace with Georgian theater.


The Tbilisi International Festival of Theater bid farewell to its audience for another year – enough time to digest what they have
seen and to share their experience, to find their place and that of the Georgian theater on the globe’s theater map, to calm and then to get excited again...

And during this time, the team of the Tbilisi International Festival of Theater will be working on a new program to offer us even more surprises and memorable experiences.

Lasha Chkhartishvili, theater critic