Georgian dance grooves

“You need to understand that in Georgia dance is religion! This is a way of life."

The Georgian State Ballet company will bring its highly popular Pazisi production to this year’s Karmiel Dance Festival (photo credit: PR)
The Georgian State Ballet company will bring its highly popular Pazisi production to this year’s Karmiel Dance Festival
(photo credit: PR)
The Karmiel Dance Festival will return next week for its 30th edition (August 7 to 10). Not bad going for any cultural enterprise in these increasingly difficult times for creative endeavor. As usual, the country’s premier dance event will proffer a wide palette of styles, colors, disciplines and ethnic flavors. Over the four days you can find Indian dance, improvisational efforts, a biblically inspired work, flamenco and a slot that marries movement with vocal expression.
The festival generally features at least one show from abroad, and this year’s offshore lineup includes a production from Georgia. The 33-strong state youth dance company will make its way over here with its wildly popular Pazisi – a.k.a. Golden Fleece – creation that fuses fast-flowing dynamics with a pungent flavor of traditional fare. The work will be presented under the aegis of artistic director Axmed Aambalia and choreographer Gigla Turkia, with the entourage headed by Prince Juan Jorge Bagration-Mukhransky.
There is a school of thought that associates the Bagration family with descendants of King David, although there is some dispute about that. What is factually clear is that the Bagrationi dynasty ruled in Georgia for a millennium, from the early ninth century to the 19th century, when the country was annexed by Russia.
Jewish antecedents or not, the Spanish-born prince will accompany the troupe’s visit here, along with his Georgian-born wife Kristine, with the company’s foray taking in a number of shows around the country, in addition to the appearance at Heichal Hatarbut in Karmiel on August 10 at 5:30 p.m.
Prince Juan Jorge is a recent immigrant to his family’s original national base and says his involvement in Georgian performing arts is largely a product of his relocation.
“My life is surrounded with arts and music and for the past three years in particular with Georgian music and dance, since I decided to live in Georgia with my beautiful wife and to leave Spain and my family there in order to become a Georgian citizen,” he declares.
His interest in the state dance company also offers the prince an avenue to vicariously engage in the art form.
“I, myself, do not have the abilities to dance as much as I wanted to, but I love dance of all kind, in particular Georgian and Spanish dance,” he notes. The 39-year-old says he was always aware of his family’s cultural backdrop.
“I was born in Spain and raised as Spanish, but learned about my Georgian roots and the history of my family and about Georgian traditions.” The prince’s grandparents left Georgia in the 1920s.
Naturally, his “return” to his ancestral national home was a momentous event in his life.
“For me it was closure,” he says. “The first time I told my family that I intended to live in Tbilisi and to learn to speak Georgian, my father hugged me and blessed me and gave me the symbol of our family to take it back to the place it belongs, because they were deported and away from the land for about 100 years. It was a very emotional moment for my family and me.”
Then again, even with his family’s long association with Georgia, Prince Juan Jorge couldn’t take it for granted that he would be welcomed with open arms.
“At first they were suspicious because they did not know why I arrived and for how long. However, because my wife was born and raised in Kutaisi [the country’s legislative capital] and she is well known in Georgia, we managed to remove the walls of suspicion and today we are very accepted. We have a lot of local friends and I already feel Georgian. When you are accepted into the Georgian people, you are warmly embraced.”
The prince also connected with one of Georgia’s principal modes of artistic expression.
“You need to understand that in Georgia dance is religion! This is a way of life. Young people from the age of four are already beginning to dance and this is a way for them to progress in life. If you ask a parent today what he would prefer his child to be – a lawyer or a dancer – he would prefer a dancer. Parents will spend a lot of money to buy fancy costumes for a child rather than to invest in studies.” There is, apparently, some educational and peacekeeping benefit to be had from the national pastime too. “This is also a way to keep the children off the streets,” adds the prince.
The incoming group is based in the Black Sea port of Poti. Next week’s visit is also the result of bilateral support.
“The city [of Poti] signed an alliance of twin cities with the city of Kiryat Yam in 2014, led by my dear friend Adv. Mordi Fizitski, who is also a member of the city council in Kiryat Yam,” notes Prince Juan Jorge. “After that, my friend raised the idea of bringing the children to Israel in order to build a bridge between the young people between the two nations.”
The members of the Georgian troupe are aged 10 to 18, and Pazisi will showcase some of the country’s principal dance dialects.
“The performance is determined by the country in which the band performs,” the prince explains, “but for the performance in Israel, the band has prepared a completely new program and will appear in a program [of] over an hour and a half. The dances include different dance types from all parts of Georgia, where each dance has the characteristic of its unique region. The performance that comes to Israel is the most faithful representative of the Georgian culture, because each region will have its special dance and special song.”
As well as providing its Israeli audiences with value for ticket money, the prince says that he and his colleagues are looking to go home with some enriching professional experience designed to augment the troupe’s artistic work, and bring some added social and education value to the Georgian dance and youth scene. For the last six years, children in grades 4, 5, 8 and 9 here have been able to take part in the Dancing Classrooms programs that aim to break down cultural and political barriers and to help schoolchildren find a common language through various forms of ballroom dancing. The initiative is the brainchild of now 73-year-old Jaffa-born Pierre Dulaine, the son of an Irish soldier stationed in British Mandate Palestine, and a Palestinian mother. The family fled the Middle East in 1948, eventually settling in the UK. Dancer and dance instructor Dulaine founded Dancing Classrooms in New York in 1994. He made a long-awaited visit to these shores in 2011, after Miri Shahaf Levy started an Israeli offshoot of the bonding youth body movement enterprise.
“I heard about it [Dancing Classrooms] from my dear friend [Karmiel Dance Festival chief] Aharon Solomon and I want to study the issue and maybe take it back to Georgia so that they can do the same in the schools over there.”
The recently repatriated royal is also looking for some wider bilateral benefits from his forthcoming visit here.
“I hope to strengthen the existing ties between Israel and Georgia, to bring together young people from both sides, to visit Georgian Jews who know the history of my family and see, firsthand, how they have integrated into the State of Israel and how they can be the bridge between the two nations.”
For tickets and more information about the Karmiel Dance Festival: (04) 988-1111 and