Shakespeare in Armenia - SafeCulture - StopAggression 

(by Dieter Topp).The 16th International Shakespeare Festival Days took place in the Armenian capital Yerevan from 17-22 October. Due to past and present circumstances explicitly affecting Armenia, this festival was held under the slogan "SafeCulture - StopAggression" . 


"The international focus on death and human rights violations, on escape and misery, related to the war situation in Ukraine, makes these problems in other states fade strongly into the background, if not completely out of the international attention," said the organisers. "Yet the resulting outcomes are the same: many thousands of people also lost their lives in Armenia's state of war, social structures changed. The suffering remains the same.This year, the festival had a special importance, because it came out with a special emphasis and mission. It had been a platform to make Armenia's voice heard for the international community and to speak out about the aggression of the neighboring state."


"Not to forget" was the motto during this festival edition at every performance, every discussion round and every event of the actually joyful and peaceful gathering of more than 250 actors and guests from 10 countries, as well as international professional festival representatives from Italy, Hungary, Romania, Kazakhstan, Iran, Bulgaria, Russia Georgia and France.


If on the one hand the opening press conference spoke of the importance of the appeal to the world for the host country, on the other hand there only was an interpretation of praised stage costumes. Here it became clear how far apart some (including the participants) were on the issues of "SafeCulture - StopAggression".


In this matter, Karo Balyan, festival director since 2016 and successor to founder Hakob Ghazanchyan (president of the Armenian Theatre Workers Union), demonstrated a tireless effort to carry the message of preserving memory for "his Armenia". It should be noted that the Yerevan International Shakespeare Theatre Festival is a member of the European ESFN network.


At the numerous events (up to four a day) with the participation of 18 theatre companies at 11 different venues, some of the writer's great dramas were on view, along with interpretations related to the great author.


The ballet of the Armenian National Opera opened the round with a Prokofiev "Romeo and Juliet" ballet presentation of an ancient kind, which was concluded with an excellent contemporary interpretation of the same subject by the Italian troupe IM PERFECT as a highlight.


Also belonging to the genre of great dramas was „Hamlet“, whose best realisation consisted of the production by Ara Yernjakian of the Yerevan Chamber Theatre. This was followed by the musical drama Theatre from Mangostausk, Kazakhstan.

Festival director Balyan, presented his staging of „Richard III“ of Hungary's Princezinhas Theatre Szeged.

Musically, the Alexandrina Chelu & Rock Filarmonica from Oradea (Romania) dealt with Shakespeare's sonnets, and dance-wise, the Movement Theatre Group from the Georgian capital Tbilisi thrilled the audience.


Still worth mentioning are the Festival Off shows, as well as contributions that referred to Shakespeare. A modern "King Lear" by the Armenian Vivid Team , as well as "Hamlet Upgrade" by Suren Shahverdyan and "If" by Marina Ra Zegrebelnaya in the Yerevan Student Theatre were followed by "Lady M" (Moriat Theatre Group), "Ophelia" by the Iranian Masoud Tayeb and "Agnes, Will's Wife", directed by Nevena Miteva, Bulgaria.


Proceeds from the festival were donated to the US charity MENQ to support projects in the fields of sports, health, education and initiatives promoting cultural and social aspects of life.


Six days of Shakespeare Festival in the face of theatre in times of war, with the tenor of not forgetting violence - especially in Armenia - did its work in the regional media. So this article hopefully may also make its contribution in the EU.