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Dismissed Legend of Rustaveli Theatre, Robert Sturua, Talks to BBC

By Salome Modebadze
Wednesday, October 12
The BBC's Russian service interviewed Robert Sturua, the former Artistic Director of Rustaveli Theatre on Monday. Having been dismissed from the administrative position for xenophobic remarks this August, the Georgian stage Director spoke of his great respect towards the ethnic minorities living in Georgia. “Tbilisi is such a multi-ethnic city that accusations of xenophobia sound quite unrealistic,” said Sturua, who grew up in a non-Georgian neighborhood.

Stressing that no particular reason has been named for his removal, the Georgian director said he had not even tried hard to justify himself. “Because it seems too ridiculous to call me a xenophobe because of the phrases,” he stated. Sturua, who had been actively opposing Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s policies in recent years through the media, complained that nothing was left of his beloved free country. Georgia, according to Sturua, has become like a sultanate under Saakshvili’s governance. “What the sultan says has to be done - that’s what annoys me as an average person and an arts man who always fought against such authoritarianism,” he stated.

On August 9 this year, the Minister of Culture and Monument Protection, Nika Rurua, signed the order for Sturua’s removal as artistic director. According to information shared by Sturua, it was the president’s personal initiative to dismiss him despite Rurua's resistance.

Leaflets written by Rustaveli Theatre’s troupe, saying: “Robert Sturua is the Artistic Director of Rustaveli Theatre,” are still hanging on the theatre’s walls. The troupe continues fighting for Sturua’s return but the director hasn’t made a final decision yet. The Managing Director of Rustaveli Theatre Zaal Chikobava offered him to stage two plays a year for quite an impressive premium as an invited director, but this issue remains obscure. Sturua supposes that this would have been paid for out of state coffers but the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection deny any deal was struck.

At the premiere of his last play The Hunting Season the former artistic director said he would stay in his homeland and follow his troupe. “I’ve been working at this theatre for 50 years but I was dismissed. I can go and stage plays at other theatres abroad but the love I feel from my troupe is the only thing I have left here - I will listen to them,” Sturua said on September 26.

As the director explained to the BBC, the decision to stay in the country does not mean the same thing as staying at Rustaveli Theatre. “I took this decision because my actors want to fight for my stay. I’ll wait what they’ll do because it would be like a betrayal to leave those who ask me to stay,” the director said adding that he might continue staging at Rustaveli Theatre.

Sturua, who has lots of proposals from various worldwide theatres, says he feels confused. A year ago he staged Shakespeare’s Tempest at Moscow’s Et Cetera Theatre headed by Alexander Kaliagin. This cooperation was immediately followed by an invite for Sturua to join Kaliagin – at that time Sturua hesitated and did not agree. But after his removal from his position in Tbilisi, Kaliagin once more invited Sturua to be visiting Chief Director in Moscow. “Now I can’t reject Kaliagin. I’m going to Et Cetera for a week to discuss our plans and then we will stage the plays we agree on,” Sturua told the BBC.

There were various rumors about who would be appointed as the new artistic director of Rustaveli Theatre but the Director of PR Elene Kvirtskhalia would not confirm anything. Stressing that the theatre would no longer have an artistic director, Kvirtskhalia explained that this position would be changed by the arts council and is still an issue under negotiation.