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The history of Georgian theatre

The history of Georgian theatre dates back to the distant past. Ancient ritual celebrations devoted to the goddess of productivity embraced the elements of theatre. Silver bowl discovered in Trialeti (2nd millennium BC) features the mystery plays – round dance of the masked performers; some fragments from round dance dramas (“Amirani”, “Abesalom and Eter”, “Avtandili” and “A fellow from Tavparavani”) are extant in performances, mystery plays and choral songs. In the 8th century BC there was a stage in the town of Kutaia (present Kutaisi), Kolkheti Kingdom, where performances and shows were staged.

According to Byzantine historian Prokopi Kesarieli, there was a theatre building and a hippodrome in the city of Apsarunti, Kingdom of Kolkheti; the theatre building with its stage, orchestra and place for spectators found in the rock-hewn city of Uplistsikhe (III-II centuries BC) confirms that the culture of antique theatre performances and shows was well spread in ancient Georgia.

Pieces of Georgian ancient dramatic poetry and broad description of pantomime shows of Hellenic age and many other original theatre terms are found in ancient historical and belletrist literature works of middle ages.
Clerical theatre and drama originated in Georgia after Christianity was declared official religion (the 330s). In parallel to this national theatre performance called “Berikaoba”, later “Keenoba” were developed.
Oldest form of theatre “Sakhioba” performed at royal palaces developed in Georgia in middle ages– these were shows performed by masked actors to the accompaniment of music. Teimuraz I and Archil II wrote dialogues and samples of polemic dramaturgy – so called “Series of Dialogues” for “Sakhioba”.

In the 1790s secular theatre based in the palace of King Erekle II was established under the leadership of Giorgi Avalishvili. Alongside with original works, plays translated from Russian and remade ones were also staged. At that time royal theatre Sakhioba led by Davit Machabeli was also functioning. Machabeli’s cast members courageously fought and died in the battle against Aga-Mahmad Khan in 1975.
Early in the 19th century circles of theatre-lovers emerged in Georgia. In 1845 Russian Drama Theatre was founded in Tbilisi; and in 1850 Georgian professional theatre was revived under the guidance of Georgian lead public figures and under the initiative of Giorgi Eristavi (1850-1856).
Giorgi Eristavi developed realistic direction in theatre and dramaturgy. In 1851 the first opera performance took place in Karvasla Theatre of Tbilisi; in 1880-86 “Treasury Theater” was built in Golovini Avenue (present Rustaveli Avenue), where “Tbilisi Treasury Opera Theatre”- now called Z. Paliashvili Opera and Ballet Theatre has been functioning since 1896.

Activities of Georgian professional theatre were renewed under the leadership of Ilia Chavchavadze and Akaki Tsereteli in 1879 (the so called constant Georgian cast). At that time heroic-romantic and realistic-comedy genres developed in Georgian theatre and dramaturgy. Simultaneously, works of foreign classic dramaturgy were in the repertoires of Georgian theatre.
At the end of the 19th century outstanding pleiad of realistic acting school representatives performed on Georgian stage and early in the 20th century professional directors appeared and started their activities.
25 November, 1921 Georgian Theatre of Tbilisi was given the name of Shota Rustaveli. Revival of Georgian theatre, introduction of new forms in theatre and establishment of principles of professional stage direction is associated with the two great directors of Georgia- Kote Marjanishvili and Sandro Akhmeteli. They developed a special epoch in Georgian theatre, which even today guides directions and tendencies of theatre art development.

Following the reformative pursuits at Rustaveli Theatre Kote Marjanishvili laid foundation to a new theatre, which was named after him. Sandro Akhmeteli’s stage directions attracted worldwide attention of theatre elite and Georgian theatre gained first world-wide recognition. As a result of theatre reform, theatrical scene painting was developed (I.Gamrekeli, P.Otskheli, E.Akhvlediani, L.Gudiashvili, D.Kakabadze, S.Virsaladze).

Early in the 20th century professional theatres, that are still functioning today, were established in different towns of Georgia.
In the 20th century alongside with famous Georgian actors of different times directors like D.Aleksidze, V.Tabliashvili, A.Chkhartishvili, V.Kushitashvili, G.Lortkipanidze,L.Ioseliani, Sh.Gatserilia, R.Gabriadze, M.Kuchukhidze, G.Zhordania, A.Shalikashvili, L.Mirtskhulava, and G.Kavtaradze also created the history of Georgian theatre.

Since the 1960s and 1970s innovative actions and introduction of different theatric- esthetical directions is associated with famous producers of modern times- Mikheil Tumanishvili, Robert Sturua and Temur Chkheidze. Even today high creative standards of theatre performance and international standing of Georgian theatre are based on R. Sturua and T.Chkheidze. Shota Rustaveli State Theatre under the leadership of Robert Sturua had triumphal tours on five continents of the world as early as in the period of Soviet regime.

By the end of the 20th century private professional theatres, chamber stages and experimental scenes emerged and started functioning along with state theatres in Georgia; they soon found their place in the theatre art.
Nowadays there are drama, music, pantomime, puppet, marionette theatres in Georgia. Alongside with the renowned masters, young generation of actors, stage directors, dramatists and stenographers are also engaged in the theater.
Russian, Armenian and Azerbaijani casts function alongside with the Georgian theatres. International contacts are established more intensively. Different theatre casts are successfully participating in international projects, festivals and forums. Foreign stage groups, theatres and performers visit Georgia periodically; Georgian directors and stenographers actively cooperate with famous theatres worldwide.

Georgian Literature

Georgian literature is very old date of its origin is impressive: “Martyrdom of Shushaniki”, Georgian hagiographic work of the 5th century is extant as a XI century manuscript.

Assembly of impressive hagiographic works of early middle ages, perfectly-shaped historical chronicles, hymns and mystic poems are topped off by “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin”, a crown of the 12th century secular literature, a poem which took an important place in the life and culture of Georgia and for centuries defined taste of literature and even the ideals of Georgia which was involved in eternal wars, was sometimes fallen to pieces and united again. Poetic form of the poem written with brilliant poetry and a strange mixture of European knighthood with Eastern life led to the fact that poets of Middle Ages not only imitated Rustaveli in their works but also wrote their lines directly in his text.

Georgia of middle ages, in its tragic epoch had Poet-Kings and poet chroniclers who were committed to the form of Rustaveli. Generally, Georgia was always a country of poetry rather than prose. Diversity and wealth of its folk poetry prove it. Far from folk poetry Besik Gabashvili, poet of the 18th century with amazing biography was undoubtedly distinguished among numerous authors entangled between the Eastern poetic methods and delights. Besik’s era was the time when nearly everything was written as verses in Georgia: verses were written everywhere and on everything; sometimes it even leaked through state papers.


The history of Georgia of middle ages was the fight against great empires of the East, vassalage towards them and escaping them. It is not surprising that Georgian literature has absorbed a lot from the East, especially from Persia. Despite its efforts, Georgia which had been ignored by Europe for centuries became a part of the Soviet Empire early in the 19th century, leading to a new wave in literature.
Nikoloz Baratashvili, the greatest romantic poet of Georgia, a prince, died at an early age. His poetry became known for the wide public several decades later.

Afterwards, new poetry came to Georgia which proved to be a turning point in many aspects of social life. The novels by Daniel Chonkadze and Lavrenti Ardaziani marked the start of a new style in literature. Ilia Chavchavadze’s all consuming activities and Akaki Tsereteli’s poetry laid foundation not only to new Georgian language but also to new Georgian literature. Trends of Georgian literature had long been defined by their creative works. At the same time Vazha Pshavela, a unique figure made his appearance. The writer living in the mountains created infinite and deep world. This world was similar to nothing and was close to perfection.

Georgian literature of the 20th century was interesting and diverse but on the other hand, it was created during the Soviet era. Great novelist Mikheil Javakhishvili and popular poets Titsian Tabidze and Paolo Iashvili, who had greatly defined the taste of Georgian literature of that time, were among those creators that sacrificed their lives during Stalinism. Galaktion Tabidze, the greatest poet of Georgia of the 20th century, who also lived in the Soviet era, committed a suicide.
Short-term warming during the Khrushchov period led to the arrival of a new generation in literature, outstanding representative of which was Otar Chiladze, a poet and a novelist. The stories by Guram Rcheulishvili and Vova Sikharulidze and their lifestyle had nothing in common with the Soviet system like perfect grotesque stories of Guram Dochanashvili. “Data Tutashkhia”, a novel by Chabua Amirejibi, turned out to be one of the most popular books of the Stagnation Era.

Georgian Traditional Music

The most precious heritage introduced to the world cultural treasury by Georgian Nation is its traditional polyphony – ancient folk music and Middle Ages chant. Despite many years of scientific and research activities done by numerous scientists, even today it is difficult to explain how Georgian people managed to reach such a highly artistic level in folklore – in music in particular, and it is obvious that the beginning of its peculiarities should be sought in the remote past. Despite some methods of musical expressiveness have parallels in different musical cultures, Georgian traditional music in unique, original, united and distinctive cultural phenomenon. Major feature that makes our traditional music the most important phenomenon of the world cultural heritage is its unique polyphony. Unity of many such features and categories, which separately are common in various folk and musical traditions of the world, is very typical for Georgian traditional music, though such complexity is very rare. These features are: various types of polyphony; perfect examples of musical form; expression of high spiritual, emotional and artistic world though polyphonic thinking and all this is combined with archaic musical language and original, unique harmony.

Georgian traditional music always impressed foreign audience. Here are some quotations: famous French writer Romen Rolan: “I have listened to songs of many nations but I have never met such beauty. Happy is the country where such people live, happy is the nation that has such music”. American composer Alan Ovanes: If Bach were alive, even he would be delighted by such polyphony. German ethnic musicologist Erich Shtockman: “It is amazing, how did the people create such complex music and how free and natural are people, some of which are even illiterate, in singing them”. Famous American ethnic musicologist Alan Lomax has called Georgia “the heart of the world folk polyphony.” On of the greatest composers of the 20th century Igor Stravinsky, after listening to Georgian folk songs for the first time, wrote: “it is the best what I have ever heard”. Famous Russian musicologist Boris Asafiev: “Georgian folk polyphony has long been recognized as a remarkable historical contribution to the great universal treasury of music. It amazes us and makes us admire and worship musical talent of Georgian people”. Georgian traditional polyphony is of universal importance and it was proved by UNESCO when it declared Georgian polyphony as a masterpiece of the world’s immaterial cultural heritage in 2001.

Early written data regarding Georgian singing have reached us: telling of Assyrian King Sargon (714 B.C.) about remote ancestors of Georgians who were singing “joyful songs” during war; a work of Greek historian Xenophon (V-IV centuries B.C.) Anabasis that describes “strange” martial dances and songs of “particular manner” of Georgian tribes. It is unknown whether polyphony was the reason of these songs “particularity” or not. Though Georgian philosopher Joanne Petritsi of XI-XII centuries A.D. already speaks about three-part singing.

Even today, most of Georgian songs are three-part, though we meet highly developed monophonic, two-part and four-part polyphonic songs as well. We can say that “ethnic vocal ideal” of Georgian musical folklore has revealed into three-part polyphony.

Music was an inseparable part of our ancestors’ life. It accompanied every moment of their life – birth, growing up, wedding, death; music was along with them in the church, at table, while working, on holidays; during three thousand years of battle for their homeland, language, belief and freedom… Respectively, the genre system of our musical folklore is diverse. Special feature of Georgian traditional music is its dialectal variety. Formation of Georgian musical dialects has close connection with differentiation of Georgian ethnic groups. This process stipulated the formation of Georgian language-dialects in vocal language, and musical dialects – in music. There is closer connection between Georgian musical dialects than in Georgian language dialects. We may come across with simple and the most complex forms of musical thinking in them – from archaic folklore of Georgian mountains to the polyphonic songs of Kartli, Kakheti and Guria.

Generally, the language of Georgian traditional music, its inner and artistic world is amazingly diverse. Georgia and the nature of its people, its past, the century-old sorrow and optimism are represented with their striking wealth and unity by long-bass luxuriously ornamented epic songs of Kartli and Kakheti, which are filled with belief of victory of life; exciting, melancholic and sad Megrelian musical lyric; proud archaic Svanetian ritual hymns; dizzy polyphony of Guria; cheerful songs of Imereti; grandiose Gurian and Adjarian four-part songs having “symphonic” dramaturgy; songs of Khevsureti, which have reached us since the beginning of musical thinking; chants full of ardent and devoted religious belief of our ancestors and their spirituality, their soft-heartedness and purity…

Priority of vocal music in Georgia is that it is mainly used to accompany singing. Though there are many examples of virtuosic performances on instruments. Most remarkable instruments in this regard are: four-string Chonguri, three-string Panduri, two-voice wind instrument Gudastviri (or Chiboni) with air reservoir, Georgian flute, string and bow instrument Chuniri, percussion instrument Daira, Drum, etc.

History of our music has saved names of great Georgian musicians, bandmasters, singers, choristers and music researchers of the last centuries: the Karbelashvilis, the Dumbadzes, Pilimon Koridze, the Kavsadzes, Samuel Chavleishvili, the Erkomaishvilis, the Khukhunaishvilis, Varlam Simonishvili, Vladimer Berdzenishvili, Ekvtime Kereselidze, Melkisedek Nakashidze, Razhden Khundadze, Nestor Kontridze, Simon Khoneli, Aslan Eristavi, Kutateladze, Dzuku Lolua, Noko Khurtsia, Rema Shelegia, Mikha Jighauri, Kirile Pachkoria, Ilia Paliani, Platon Dadvani, Jokia Meshveliani, Maro Tarkhnishvili, Vano Mchedlishvili, Hamlet Gonashvili, Zakaria Paliashvili, Dimitri Arakishvili, Grigol Chkhikvadze, Shalva Aslanishvili, Otar Chijavadze, Kakhi Rosebashvili, Evsevi Chokhonelidze, Edisher Garakanidze, etc. These people have made a generous contribution to survival and development of national musical culture in the period of Russian Tsarist and Communist occupation. Georgian national music together with Georgian language was being fought and confronted by imperial culture-politics with the aim of Georgians’ Russification.

Among the patriarchs of our traditional music the following musicians should be mentioned today: Polikarpe Khubulava, Otar Berdzenishvili, Islam Pilpani, Andro Simashvili, brothers Sikharulidze, Temur Kevkhishvili and Anzor Erkomaishvili, who besides working in various famous ensembles (Gordela, Rustavi, Martve, Bichebi) and bringing up Pleiades of young performers, has made a generous contribution to searching for phonograms of Georgian traditional music scattered in various places of the world, bringing them to Georgia, studying and publishing them. His activities have brought popularity to Georgian folk music in many countries of the world and in result of his efforts UNESCO has recognized Georgian polyphony.

Studying Georgian traditional music rouses interest not only for Georgian but for foreign musicologists as well. Many ensembles and scientific centers have been formed. International symposiums dedicated to traditional polyphony of various countries are often held in Tbilisi Conservatoire. Many world famous ethnic musicologists take part in them.

The change of social environment of folklore in XX century – technical progress, disappearance of many habits and customs from everyday life, spreading of low-grade mass production, has changed the state of musical folklore and features of functioning, though very hopeful is “folklore movement” begun in the last decades that is connected to the activity of folklore ensembles Gordela, Rustavi, Sukhishvilebi, Martve and Bichebi. It is also noteworthy that the government is concerned about our unique musical heritage. This increasing and mass interest in traditional music proves that it is the main sign of ethnic self-identification of Georgian people. Over the centuries our traditional polyphony has become a symbol of spirituality, high moral character and originality of Georgians. It reveals the values and peculiarities of spirituality and morale that Georgian Nation has made to the treasury of the world’s spiritual cultural heritage.Era.

Dance in Georgia

  • Kartuli (ქართული) – The dance Kartuli many times reminds the audience of a wedding . Kartuli is a truly romantic dance. It is performed by a dance couple and incorporates the softness and gracefulness of a woman and dignity and love of a man. It shows that even in love, men uphold their respect and manners by not touching the woman and maintaining a certain distance from her. The man focuses his eyes on his partner as if she were the only woman in the whole world. He keeps his upper body motionless at all times. The woman keeps her eyes downcast at all times and glides on the rough floor as a swan on the smooth surface of a lake. The utmost skill, which is necessary to perform Kartuli, has earned the dance a reputation of one of the most difficult dances. There were only a few great performers of Kartuli. Some of these are Nino Ramishvili and Iliko Sukhishvili, and Iamze Dolaberidze and Pridon Sulaberidze.
  • Khorumi (ხორუმი) – This war dance has originated in the region of Achara, which is located in the southwestern region of Georgia. The dance was originally performed by only a few man. However, over time it has grown in scale. In today’s version of Khorumi, thirty or forty dancers can participate. Although the number of performers changed, the content of the dance is still the same. The dance brings to life Georgian army of the past centuries. A few men who are searching the area for a campsite and enemy camps perform the initial “prelude” to the dance. Afterwards, they call the army onto the battlefield. The exit of the army is quite breathtaking. Its strength, simple but distinctive movements and the exactness of lines create a sense of awe on stage. The dance incorporates in itself the themes of search, war, and the celebration of victory as well as courage and glory of Georgian soldiers. Since Georgia has seen many wars throughout its history, Khorumi is a call from the past and reminds us that in order to have peace, we must have war.
  • Acharuli (აჭარული) – Acharuli has also originated in the region of Achara. It is where the dance gets its name from. Acharuli is distinguished from other dances with its colorful costumes and the playful mood that simple but definite movements of both men and women create on stage. The dance is characterized with graceful, soft, and playful flirtation between the males and females. Unlike Kartuli, the relationship between men and women in this dance is more informal and lighthearted. Acharuli instills the sense of happiness in both the dancer and the audience.
  • Partsa (ფარცა) – Partsa has its origins in Guria (another region in Georgia) and is characterized by its fast pace, rhythm, festive mood, and colorfulness. As a performer, I can say that during a partsa performance, a dancer feels like a bird in the sky, flying across the stage barely touching the floor. Partsa mesmerizes the audience with not only speed and gracefulness, but also with “live towers.” This dance creates a mood and a desire to party.
  • Kazbeguri (ყაზბეგური) – Kazbeguri takes us to the Northern Mountains of Georgia, which is marked with a diverse culture and traditions. The relatively cold and rough atmosphere of the mountains is shown through the vigor and the strictness of the movements. This dance is performed by only men and portrays the toughness and endurance of the mountain people.
  • Khanjluri (ხანჯლური) – Historically, Georgians tend to strive for excellence. This trend is portrayed in our folk dances. Thus, many Georgian dances are based on the idea of competition. Khanjluri is one of those dances. In this dance, shepherds, dressed in red chokhas (traditional men’s wear) compete with each other in the usage of daggers and in performing complicated movements. One performer replaces another, and the courage and skill overflows on stage. Since Khanjluri involves daggers and knives, it requires tremendous skill and practice on the part of the performers.
  • Khevsuruli (ხევსურული) – This mountain dance is probably the best representative of the Georgian spirit. It unites love, courage, and respect for women, toughness, competition, skill, beauty, and colorfulness into one amazing performance. The dance starts out with a flirting couple. Unexpectedly, another young men appears, also seeking the hand of the woman. A conflict breaks out and soon turns into a vigorous fighting between the two men and their supporters. The quarrel is stopped temporarily by the woman’s veil. Traditionally, when a woman throws her head veil between two men, all disagreements and fighting halts. However, as soon as the woman leaves the scene, the fighting continues even more vigorously. The young men from both sides attack each other with swords and shields. In some occasions, one man has to fight off three attackers. At the end, a woman (or women) comes in and stops the fighting with her veil once again. However, the final of the dance is “open” –meaning that the audience does not know the outcome of the fighting. As a characteristic of Georgian dances, Khevsuruli is also very technical and requires intense practice and utmost skill in order to perform the dance without hurting anyone.
  • Mtiuluri (მთიულური) – Mtiuluri is also a mountain dance. Similar to Khevsuruli, Mtiuluri is also based on competition. However, in this dance, the competition is mainly between two groups of young men. It is more like a celebration of skill and art. At first, groups compete in performing complicated movements. Then, we see girl’s dance, which is followed by individual dancer’s performance of amazing “tricks” on their knees and toes. At the end, everyone dances a beautiful final. This dance truly reminds us of a festival in the mountains.
  • Simd and Khonga  – Ossetian (Alanian) dances. They have much in common but are also significantly different from each other. The costumes in both dances are distinguished with long sleeves. In addition, the headwear of both the women and the men are exceptionally high. However, in Khonga or Invitation Dance men dance on point, which is particularly difficult but is a beautiful sight. Khonga is performed by a few dancers and is characterized by the grace and softness of the movements. On the other hand, Simd is danced by many couples. The beauty of Simd is in the strict graphic outline of the dance, the contrast between black and white costumes, the softness of movements, the strictness of line formations, and the harmony created by all of the above.
  • Kintouri (კინტოური) (Sholoxo), (Shalaho), – Kintouri is one of the city dances portraying the city life in old Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. The dance takes its name after “Kintos” who were small merchants in Tbilisi. They wore black outfits with baggy pants and usually carried their goods (mostly food) on their heads around the city. When a customer chose goods, a kinto would take the silk shawl hanging from his silver belt and wrap the fruits and vegetables in them to weigh. Kintos were known to be cunning, swift, and informal. Such characteristics of kinto are well shown in Kintouri. The dance is light natured and fun to watch.
  • Samaia (სამაია) – The dance Samaia is performed by three women and originally, was considered to be a dance of Pagan times. However, today’s Samaia is a representation of King Tamar and her glory. King Tamar in many sources is mentioned as a Queen of Georgia. However, she was considered to be the king of the United Kingdom of Georgia in 12th-13th centuries and was the first woman king in Georgia’s history. There are only four frescos that keep the much-revered image of King Tamar. Simon Virsaladze based the costumes of Samaia on the King’s clothing on those frescos. In addition, the trinity idea in the dance represents King Tamar as a young princess, a wise mother and the powerful king. All these three images are united in one harmonious picture. Moreover, the simple but soft and graceful movements create an atmosphere of beauty, glory and power that surrounded the King’s reign.
  • Jeirani (ჯეირანი) – This dance is built on the hunting episode on a doe and is beautifully choreographed by Nino Ramishvili. The dance incorporates not only classical ballet movements but also paints a breathtaking picture of a hunting scene. Everyone who saw Jeirani performed by Nino Ramishvili cannot forget the beautiful body movements, unique dance steps and the dancing spirit charged into the audience.
  • Karachokheli (ყარაჩოხელი) – Karachokheli was a city craftsman and generally wore black chokha (traditional men’s wear). They were known for hard work and, at the same time, for a carefree life. His love for life, wine (which Georgia is famous for) and beautiful women is well represented in the dance Karachokheli.
  • Mkhedruli dance The word “Mkhedari” means cavalryman, and the Mkhedruli is, therefore, a soldier’s dance. The dance begins in a raging tempo, becoming more and more violent. The legs of the cavalryman imitate the fast movements of the horse, while their body and arm movements impersonate the battle with enemy.
  • Parikaoba - A warrior dance from the far northeastern region of Khevsureti. A girl enters, looking for her beloved. He appears only to encounter others, precipitating an energetic battle with sword and shield. When the girl throws down her headress, the men must stop according to tradition, only to renew their battle soon after.

Architecture and arts

Georgian architecture has been influenced by many civilizations. There are several different architectural styles for towers, castles,, fortification and churches. The Upper Svaneti fortifications, and the castle town of Shatili in Khevsureti, are some of the finest examples of medieval Georgian castle architecture. Other architectural aspects of Georgia include Rustaveli avenue in Tbilisi in the Hausmann style, and the Old Town District.

Georgian ecclesiastic art is one of the most fascinating aspects of Georgian Christian architecture, which combines classical dome style with original basilica style forming what is known as the Georgian cross-dome style. Cross-dome architecture developed in Georgia during the 9th century; before that, most Georgian churches were basilicas. Other examples of Georgian ecclesiastic architecture can be found outside Georgia: Bachkovo Monastery in Bulgaria (built in 1083 by the Georgian military commander Grigorii Bakuriani), Iviron monastry in Greece (built by Georgians in the 10th century), and the Monastry of cross in Jerusalem (built by Georgians in the 9th century).

The art of Georgia spans theprehistoric , the ancient Greek , Roman, iconic and modern visual arts. One of the most famous late 19th/early 20th century Georgian artists is a primitivist painter Niko Pirosmani.

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