UK Theater Students Inspired by Georgia’s Unique Polyphonic History and Culture

Culture is perhaps one of the precious commodities one country can exchange with another, something not lost on the British Council which helped to arrange a recent visit by theater students from the UK to Georgia. Coming to Georgia was the idea of Gabriel Gawin, who acted in the Piesn Kozla Polish Theatre Company at Tbilisi International Theater Festival held in 2014 and performed in “Songs of Lear”. He is the program director of Rose Bruford College, a famous international drama college in London.

The students, from eight different countries, stayed in Telavi, Tusheti and Tbilisi during a memorable two-week tour.

Niamh Dowling, Head of School of Theatre at Rose Bruford College, tells us how the Georgia trip materialized: “Two and a half years ago, the British Council brought the Deputy Minister of Culture from Georgia to visit Rose Bruford College. So, it was something that was in our thinking. We decided to come specifically because of the culture – the songs, dances and mountains, the countryside here. It is an international group of eight different nationalities and runs for 13 months. They train for 9 months, then they came here and will do some research of their own. This is the beginning of their research work – how to look for new music songs, other cultures. We will not be visiting other countries, just Georgia because it’s really special. It’s very beautiful in Tusheti and when you are there, in that small world, it feels like you are so far away from the rest of the world. There is nothing: no electricity, no means of communication. It is remote and wild. There is a lot of indigenous culture. It’s worth mentioning I think that these students came originally as actors and their eyes have been opened to new cultures that they better understand themselves now. That makes them question their own culture, history etc. It’s really valuable and useful.”

Gawin added: “Last September, with my theatre company Piesn Kozla, we forged a strong relationship with the [Georgian] people who came to see our performance. So, we found a very strong affinity with Georgia within our work. It gave us an inspiration to come again. In Tusheti where we’ve been, music is a part of their living. It’s not about listening to songs. Of course, an actor has to have material, but it’s the quality of that material that exists within the human beings and the value of that material. It seems that these communities in the Georgian mountains understand who they are and where they come from. They understand the history and the differences between the male and female. This sense of togetherness and a common understanding, which is still made of individuals, is important for us as a company. My theatre company has previously been to Siberia, Spain, Romania and Greece. We have done expeditions and the theatre company also trains these students as a part of our duty.”

Expeditions involve daily periods of physical and vocal training, research, living and experiencing other cultures, rituals and landscapes.

Robin Paley Yorke, a British student, shared his impressions of the trip: “We learned Kakhetian songs. We have a big emphasis on learning polyphonic music. We also had a couple of dance classes with Telavi State Dance Company. After our 5 days in Telavi, we went to Tusheti where we learned a great deal.” Among the songs they had learnt prior to coming to Georgia, were the very famous Shen khar venakhi (You are a vineyard) and Tsintskharo.

“We are drama actors, but song has had a heavy influence on our training. Our theater has a strong Polish Theater heritage coming from Staniewski. There is such a strong polyphonic history and culture, and that is why we chose to come to Georgia. In Tusheti the community really worked together, and how they helped each other and they help the people. It’s something so human. It’s really nice to assimilate this in relation to our ensemble, how we are a community, and they are really linked. I feel in your songs that people know the history and the Georgian grief is constantly present in your songs. But there is a joy too in some love songs. You also have warriors’ chants that are so full of hope,” added Yorke.

Finnish student Anna Korolainen noted: “We came to Georgia mainly to sing and find out about the music. We met a shepherd who was singing in Tushetiand learned something in every village. As a group, it is our first foreign place to visit. My project what I will do afterwards as a final research, is not related to Georgia, but I was really interested in traditional songs, especially, female songs. You have a lot of songs of mothers losing their daughters and sons, women’s grieving. For me, that was really interesting. I’m studying feminist research, so for me, that is something to take with me,” said the Finn.

Regardless of their backgrounds and previous experiences, Georgia has clearly touched the group, with inspirations drawn from its people and culture.

The group will be going to Gdansk International Shakespeare Festival. As a culmination of their training, they devised a performance taking inspiration from the famous play “Hamlet”, lullabies and also Irish dancing. They also sang two Georgian songs, a fitting tribute to their worthwhile excursion. Georgia Today wishes them great success in their theatrical endeavors.

Maka Lomadze

06 August 2015 22:11