The Dance of Death, Life and Discrete Figures
By Davit Bukhrikidze
The program and concept of the 14th Tbilisi International Theater Festival are mainly defined by today's world dramas, echoes of the Russia-Ukraine war, gender problems, the magic of puppet theater and the rapidly changing latest technologies.
It is no coincidence that this year the international program will be opened by the co-production of the Ukrainian theater company "Dakh Daughters" and the National Theater of Normandy, with the eloquent name "Danse Macabre". Ukrainian artist and director Vlad Troitsky, who founded the theater "Dakh" (Ukrainian for "roof") in Kyiv in 1994, was forced to leave his homeland after the beginning of Russian aggression and go to France with his wife, daughter, and theatre troupe members. In March, the Ukrainian troupe was supported by the National Drama Center of Normandy.
It was in cooperation with their hosts, the Normandy Theater, that the musical-theatrical performance "Danse Macabre" was created, which tells us about the constant rhyming of life and death with emotional honesty. The rich visual arsenal of "Physical Theatre" and various musical themes underline the anti-militaristic message of the 90-minute performance: to dispel the pain caused by war, and theater as an effort to achieve peace.
"Art seems to have become an instrument of witnessing and recognizing reality. When you are informed daily about what is happening in Ukraine, when every day is filled with terrible news, we are obliged to speak honestly to the audience. Because of this, an incredibly emotional and sincere connection is established between the audience and the actors. It is our duty to understand over and over again the new reality and convey it in the language of art. That's why we combine different directions of music and are inspired by the trend of minimalism, especially the likes of music of Philip Glass. However, the war changed our words and forms of expression, which became sharper, more aggressive and more sincere", says Vlad Troitsky, artistic director and the director of "Dakh Daughters".
Hence, in Vaso Abashidze State New Theatre (where "Danse Macabre" will be presented), the audiences will get a chance to assess the dramatism, sincerity and aesthetics of the play.
Merlin Puppet Theater, with its absurd and hermetic world, is far from the musical-dramatic madness of the Ukrainian performance. The performance called "Clowns’ Houses " was staged by the Greek director Dimitris Stamou. One the one hand, this is a metaphor for the technocratic world and visible loneliness on the other: people sit in darkened, slightly mystical and distorted rooms. They found themselves entrapped in their own habits and loneliness, from which it is impossible to escape.
It must be said that "Clowns’ Houses" is a technologically diverse and witty performance. It is distinguished both by the high quality of puppet-making and the metaphorical use of objects and elements of "shadow theater".
Merlin Puppet Theater was founded in Athens in the last century. Its founders – Dimitri Stamou and Demi Papada, initially created masks and puppets for the theater, but later they started holding performances in different cities of Greece. They have created numerous stories and fairy-tale puppet shows for adult audiences, and have performed hundreds of performances in 42 countries around the world. Since 2011, the theater is based in Germany and continues the creation process there, where it still has its own theater space.
For those who are interested in the magical connection between theater and cinema, the performance of the Dutch "Jakop Ahlbom Company" called "Lebensraum" (it can also be translated as "a living space") is truly essential. Director Jakop Ahlbom's imagination feeds directly from Buster Keaton's silent films, from which he borrows not only the story with inspiration and irony, but also the elegant music and ironic stage design. The performance will take place on the big stage of Marjanishvili Theater.
Composer Alamo Rey's musical track creates a sad yet danceable mood, while artist and set designer Dove Hibma creates an atmosphere similar to silent cinema. In addition, the artist "shrinks" the room in front of our eyes, because the living room of the two men is too small. In order to make the most of the space, they will turn the bed into a piano, and the bookshelf into a refrigerator. To compensate for a woman, they create a mechanical doll, but soon the doll will develop its own desires and thoughts...
The plot of Buster Keaton's famous comedy "The Scarecrow" and theatrical expressionism seem to alternate and compete with each other. However, we will not forget the ironic reference to Dr. Frankenstein, who is completely visible after the mechanical puppet is activated in the play. Against this background, the theme of male dominance, which is contradicted by the purposefulness of the doll turned into a woman, becomes relevant.
The irony of "Lebensraum"’s gender issue will be dramatically answered (or confronted) by the one-hour performance of the Iranian theater group "Praxis" — "I am a woman, do you hear me?" Director Camelia Ghazali depicts the pains and drama of three generations of Iranian women – a grandmother, a mother and a daughter – in an achromatic stage environment. The alternation of gray, black and white and the continuous snowing on stage accurately conveys the atmosphere in which women's fear, hopelessness, love and hate alternate with each other.
Director Camelia Ghazali: "Nobody ever understood these women. This is the voice that has been hidden under the snow and frost for decades; a voice whose echo we were afraid of... this is a woman's voice."
"I'm a woman, do you hear me?" was shown with great success at the Festival of European Culture in Karlsruhe, Germany. In 2019, the Iranian troupe triumphed on the stage of the famous "Piccolo Theater" in Milan. This time, the Georgian audience is given the opportunity to see the dramatic history of Iranian women in the Marjanishvili theater.
The real discovery of this year's festival, or a "technological dessert", can be considered the performance of the Japanese dance theater company "Discrete Figures", which was realized by the director Mikiko by combining mathematics, the latest technologies, video images and artificial intelligence (the artistic director of the company and the author of the music, Daito Manabe).
Digital data, based on artificial intelligence, gives body movement a whole new dimension. The movements of the dancers are projected on the screen, and the "copy-movements" (as close as possible) are repeated in rectangular frames. In a word, "Discrete Figures" is an incredible synthesis of the latest technologies and modern dance theater.
Since 2018, the Japanese performance has been successfully traveling to various festival stages around the world: Montreal, Tokyo, San Francisco, Barcelona... So, it's just a few steps from "Danse Macabre" born in the heat of war to "Discrete Figures" equipped with the latest technology. It is enough we boldly take these steps towards the performances of the Tbilisi International Theater Festival.