Georgian International Festival
of Arts in Honor of Michail Tumanishvili
Festival in Focus | Simon Mundy profiles the members of EFA | GIFT Festival Georgian International Festival of Arts in Honor of Michail Tumanishvili Tbilisi, Georgia

Festival in Focus | Simon Mundy profiles the members of EFA | GIFT Festival

Georgian International Festival of Arts in Honor of Michail Tumanishvili Tbilisi, Georgia

The strands that weave the Georgia International Festival of Theatre together are big, bright and uncomfortable. They put theatre and dance firmly in a zone of argument that says an artistic question is always a political question, and one which will never be answered in platitudes.

There are anyway few more political countries than Georgia. Geography gives it no choice. Sandwiched between Russia and Turkey, two powers which know how to act as school bullies, and bordered by Caucasian peoples who are even more unhappy with their contemporary status. Conflict is ever present, the possibility of war is never discounted, internal feuds are deep and furious. GIFT recognises all this and uses theatre from the rest of the world to confront the problems.

2017 marks the twentieth anniversary of the festival. It emerged as a response from the turbulence of the 1990s but because Georgia has remained in one or another state of turbulence ever since, the reasons for its formation have changed little either. Those twenty years have not been unbroken and stability has never been GIFT's natural state, in terms of resources or official backing.




The starting point was a sense in the international theatre community that Georgia needed to free itself from the mess that the breakup of the Soviet Union and the ensuing civil conflict had left. GIFT was not only an acronym of the festival's name, it represented the gift of artistic solidarity from the theatrical world. Much of the impetus came from William Burdett-Coutts, the founder of Assembly (one of the main production companies of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe) and later the Director of London's Riverside Studios. He garnered the support of many of the great names of British theatre, including Peter Brook, Vanessa Redgrave, Richard Attenborough and Anthony Hopkins, and Burdett-Coutts was a major force in shaping the blueprint for the programming.




Since then GIFT has been careful to keep the artistic doors open, whatever the ups and (mostly) downs of Georgia's relations with other countries – especially to Russia, when that has seemed almost impossible. The formula works because the festival prides itself on presenting a limited but unimpeachably high quality set of productions – the quality defined by the daring, the experiment and the integrity.




All the way through, GIFT has been directed by Keti Dolidze, who has been recognised as something of a force of nature ever since, as a post-graduate student in 1974, she persuaded the then communist secretary Eduard Shevardnadze to come to her class's diploma production and then allow her teacher to form the Film Actors Theatre. That teacher was the influential director Mikhail Ivanovich Tumanishvili who was, like Brook, one of the early proponents of improvisation techniques in acting. He died in 1996 (not to be confused with the film director of similar name who died in 2010) and, since the festival was first held in the following year, it was named after him.




After that first festival, which Keti describes as “an act of true People's Diplomacy”, lack of money meant that the programme at the end of the century was very sparse but from 2000 until 2008 GIFT's activity was expanded and its reputation established. Then Russia invaded, the political temperature became even more toxic, and GIFT was closed. “I was one of those who had lost faith in Shevardnadze and supported the Rose Revolution [in 2003] but I came to be seen as anti-Saakashvili and so government support was withdrawn.” Instead, that support was given to the newly formed Tbilisi International Festival of Theatre.




The political climate changed again in 2013 and GIFT was reformed, though now branded as the Festival of the Arts, rather than just theatre (though the old and valued acronym remains). “The new government wanted to reverse the decisions of five years earlier and scrap the other festival but I argued that was wrong,” says Keti. “It is different from GIFT and there is room for both.”




However she feels the timing is unfortunate and there should be a shift to earlier in the year. “Today the government has scheduled that everything in Tbilisi happens in September and October, while the rest of the year has almost nothing. This doesn't make sense. We need much more in the spring and early summer so something should move and then we will have arts spread through the year. At the moment it is difficult for the audience. People cannot afford to go to everything at once.”




She takes great pride in the concentrated nature of the festival – a few carefully chosen productions playing for a short time and mostly from outside Georgia. “This is not a free for all, not a fringe,” she says, seeing herself as a bold but fastidious curator. The 2017 festival, from 18 October till 12 November, has Sacha Waltz's dance company from Germany, WHS contemporary circus and visual theatre from Finland, Baltic House Theatre from St. Petersburg (Alexander Galibin's production of Anna Karenina) and the Sankai Juku Butoh troupe from Japan.




Keti Dolidze says that, in their situation, they cannot plan so far ahead as Western European festivals, much as she would like to. There are the problems of navigating politics but the real issue is funding. “Over the next few years we must all push the government to increase and confirm what they give. In Georgia, if they don't support you, you are always just on the starting line.”




Twenty years ago an unlikely combination of Georgian and international theatre makers ensured that the spirit of Edinburgh – the belief that festivals make a difference in dark times – was transported to the capital of Georgia. It was a belief too that those facing the most serious issues deserve the best the arts can offer if they are to make sense of events and re-imagine the future. GIFT has survived and, while it has not always prospered, it has shown that resilience pays off in the long run.



 by Simon Mundy in the series EFA Festival in Focus









Further Information on GIFT






The GIFT/Georgian International Festival of Arts in Tbilisi in honour of Michael Tumanishvili is an annual celebration bringing the best of the visiting arts in Tbilisi, as well as leading the country’s unique cultural profile internationally. Since its inception the GIFT Festival hosted more than 300 international visiting groups and companies and yet remains as one of the major platform for international exchange and cooperation in Georgia. Founded in 1997, it brings to the Georgian capital national and international various art forms: contemporary theatre and dance, flamenco, classical theatre…


Artistic Director: Keti Dolidze | General Manager: Sophie Tortladze


Contact: E: | T: 00 995 322350203 |
164, Agmashenebeli Street, 0102 Tbilisi |




GIFT. Georgian International Festival of Arts Tbilisi

Georgia. The GIFT Festival Country

Keti Dolizde (Artistic Director) on CNN

EFA Festival Faces Portrait Keti Dolizde



GIFT Festival Programme 2017

Festival’s web page

Festival’s blog


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Rainy Duende from Sparkling Flamenco Star at the Start of “GIFT” Festival

Rainy Duende from Sparkling Flamenco Star at the Start of “GIFT” Festival

The 15th “GIFT” – Georgian International Festival of Arts - one of the most significant occasions of Tbilisi Autumn cultural life, has started. It was opened on October 15, at Tumanishvili Film Actors Theatre by the exhibition of famous and experienced Georgian painter Temo Gotsadze. The initial day was capped with the impressive soiree at Opera and Ballet Theater where Eva Yerbabyena, a dancing star from Seville, Spain, lit a real choreographic fire with her compatriot singers and dancers.

This is the world where human beings do not exist as they should, where there are only characters, faces and masks, when there is no music, but the harmonic cascade of sounds and rhythm, where there is no theatrical atmosphere of its classical meaning, but crystalized emotions and mood – this is Eva Yerbabyena’s unusual mystification, where emotion gives birth to the sound and sound gives birth to the moves. This is an absolutely different universe, radically different from that mythic, superior and full of passion life that we always imagine, when we talk about Flamenco. Here one would not see the Latin-American joy and carelessness. This is the world full of pain, disappointment, stories of destroyed people… The tragedy reaches such an extent that words become too feeble and here, the sorrow in songs that create the background for dancers, turns them into lamentation…So, there is no room to distract and entertain… This show was as tragic as life often is… This short woman Eva, without any special appearance manages to mesmerize and hold the whole audience thanks to Duende, which implies earthiness, irrationality, heightened awareness of death and a dash of the diabolical.  

The authenticity and vigor mesmerizes the foreign audience, as it surpasses all the imagination of a woman’s physical endurance. The female dancers started wearing simple clothes and ended up in Spanish expensive dresses… Eva Yerbabyena’s male partner was very strong too. Rain is coming from the ceiling, as if trying to smooth or purify all the spots that life gives a birth on human body… Or does it symbolize how nature cries in unison with the humans’ tears? Maybe both of them? The body tries to get rid of tortured soul – a Corrida between humans and inner demons, in which not only performers but also the audience gets involved too, in spite of the sophisticated Opera Chandeliers and glitter. This is the world of emotion and expression where everybody’s heart beats very intensely, waiting for the final minute… Here, Eva has combated her age too – she is already 46!  

Born in Frankfurt, Eva started dancing at the age of 11 with such propriety that soon it became obvious that she would joust Andalusian flamenco legends. Angustilla’s la Mona, Enrique el Canastero or Mariquilla were the first teachers who showed her the way that was continued into a distinguished career remarkable with its particular signature in flamenco and individual system. Eva was personally invited by Maya Plisetskaya at the gala in honor of 90th Anniversary of the Bolshoi Theatre, and she astonished vast audience, even though the Russian legend could not live up to that very day.  

Eva Yerbabyena’s career has been recognized with several awards which place her among the best choreographers and dancers of her generation: the National Dance Award, the Medal of Andalusia, several Giraldillo granted by the Bienal de Flamenco de Sevilla, the Time Out Award for Best Performer Women’s Dance, etc…   

 “This was a brilliant performance that has surpassed all the impressions. Generally speaking, Keti Dolidze (note: director, founder of the festival GIFT) knows how to make festivals and brings the best of the best of actors and artists. We are not indulged with such great performers and it is extremely nice that at least at festivals, we can witness such high-class shows,” Mamuka Pavliashvili, actor, told GEORGIA TODAY.  

At the end of the show, together with legendary Eva, Lasha Tabukashvili, well-known Georgian dramatist and writer, and Temo Gotsadze, famous painter, were handed over special prize for the lifetime achievement for their excellence in art by Georgian International Festival of Arts GIFT in honor of Michael Tumanishvili. Supported by the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection and Tbilisi City Hall, the festival “GIFT” will end on November 25 with the opening gala.

The long-awaited culmination came after 2 hours… Eva Yerbabyena came from the hall and ended up disappearing to the audience, where she emerged from… As if hinting that she is one of us, turning into an artistic monster on stage and then becoming a human again – dual life of a great dancer!!!


By Maka Lomadze


Rainy Duende from Sparkling Flamenco Star at the Start of “GIFT” Festival


  • GIFT/ Georgian International Festival of Arts in Tbilisi in honor of Michail Tumanishvili
  • 164, Agmashenebeli Avenue, 0112 Tbilisi, Georgia
  • General enquiries : + 995 32 235 0203
  • Press Office: + 995 551176818

  • GIFT/ Georgian International Festival of Arts in Tbilisi in honor of Michail Tumanishvili
  • 164, Agmashenebeli Avenue, 0112 Tbilisi, Georgia
  • General enquiries : + 995 32 235 0203
  • Press Office: + 995 551176818