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Ensemble Rustavi charity performance enjoyable but unexceptional

Friday, December 28
As part of a series of Christmas charity concerts billed as “Artistes for Artistes” at the Rustaveli Theatre, we were given the opportunity to see some Georgian folk dancing and singing last Monday evening. There are a remarkable number of ensembles offering such entertainment, but few are as well known as Ensemble Rustavi which was founded in the small town of Rustavi in 1968. Having already seen some cracking folk dancing concerts, I went along to see what their unique selling point is.

Let me say at the outset that the stage at the Rustaveli Theatre is significantly smaller than that at the Philharmonia where folk dance groups often perform. Whether the size of the stage matters is perhaps open to debate, however what was obvious was that Pridon Sulaberidze, Ensemble Rustavi’s sprightly choreographer, is possibly used to a larger performance area, because when he was performing his backward movements came to an abrupt halt when he bumped into the side of the stage.

Ensemble Rustavi’s choir is seemingly known for the quality of its polyphonic harmonies, and it was a great pity that we were not given the opportunity to fully appreciate their talent for this. The opening dance included some wonderful polyphony, but that was it. I am sure that I was not the only one in the audience who was left wondering why the choir were not given more time to demonstrate what they could do. Perhaps the particular dances performed do not have polyphonic accompaniment. Whatever the reason, this was a disappointment. That said, the band played some marvelous melodies on traditional folk instruments like the panduri and salamuri—and a couple of perhaps not so traditional accordions.

In this season of goodwill perhaps one should not cavil too much, but the lack of a program for this event—even a simple sheet giving details of the dances performed—was a great disappointment. There is no doubt that foreigners (of which there were a good few in the auditorium that evening) and maybe a few Georgians too, have great difficulty in differentiating the dances and understanding what is going on. One would have thought that at such a high profile charity event, which had a good number of commercial sponsors including major players like Natakhtari and Lukoil, a program would have been provided to enable the audience to get maximum enjoyment. Was this an oversight by the organizers, or did they work on the principle that those attending the event should already be able to recognize the different dances, and those unable to do so should remain in the dark?

As for the dancing, despite the space restrictions it was, on the whole, a pleasure to behold what with those exquisite colorful costumes and the variety of pace and movement reflecting a mixture of bravery and courage and grace and elegance. The pinnacle of the performance was undoubtedly the vigorous Khevsuruli dance shortly before the end of the show in which the performers attacked each other with swords and shields: a dance that tested their skills and gymnastic ability to the utmost.

As for Ensemble Rustavi’s unique selling point in the light of the dearth of singing, the only one I could identify was the inclusion of a dance done by children and youths which gave us the chance to see some budding talent in action. Other than that, it was a polished professional performance with the dances much the same as those done by many other groups. And, flaws apart, it was an enjoyable evening for a good cause in which Pridon Sulaberidze was presented by some admirers with a single pheasant feather as a token of their appreciation.