By Ana Mikatadze
The story of Amiran Shalikashvili’s Pantomime Theater turned out to be far more interesting than I had anticipated. It was also unexpectedly sad. We talked about a lot of things: pantomime as a way of life, the state of the current theatre and his plans for its modernization, his father’s legacy and the future of Georgian Pantomime, etc.
What was your first time on stage like? What was the theatre like back then?
Amiran Shalikashvili Junior: I started doing this when I was thirteen and I’ve been doing it since. It was the 90s back then and to be honest I entered the theatre by accident. For some time after 1992, the whole country was in chaos and theatre was no exception. In 1996 my father decided to start everything from scratch. So he put us – his family, on the stage and we started to work. After some time, I really got into it and as you can see, I’m still here.
What piqued your interest?
Amiran Shalikashvili Junior: I didn’t even know where I was. The school was in session at that time, so I was concentrated on that, but the theatre proved to be so entertaining that it really started to interest me. Moreover, from 1996 to 2005 I didn’t even get a role to play.
I played my first main role in “Terenti Graneli” in 2005. For over an hour I was in shock and I remember people crying their eyes out. This is how I started playing serious roles.
Then came roles like – Saint George, Christ… At last, my father put on “Knight in a Panther’s Skin” and then I started getting different roles. The sad part is that I was also forced to take care of administration stuff, which doesn’t interest me that much.
What did your father, Amiran Shalikashvili, contribute to the pantomime theatre?
Amiran Shalikashvili Junior: Amiran Shalikashvili revolutionized European pantomime itself. First of all, European pantomime is minimalistic, consisting of 2-3 people.
Even Marcel Marceau attended our plays and said that there was nothing like this anywhere else in the world. This is because Georgian pantomime is nationalistic and collectivistic.
My father always put on massive plays, with like 20-30 men, plus he filmed poems and plays like “Firosmani”, “Kidevac Daizrdebian” and so on.
Moreover, he founded unique Georgian movements, which were then used by other counties, like the USA and Russia. My father didn’t like decorations and costumes. He would sometimes put a black cube on the stage to transfer attention to the character’s emotions, but nothing else.
Pantomime started as street art in Europe– an artist would get up, put on a white make-up and perform on the street. My father rejected this too. He did it in order to retain a clean face with all its dramatism and emotions. Generally, he put on dramatic plays, because of his history – a burnt theatre, stolen from him and so on.
A burnt theatre?
Amiran Shalikashvili Junior: Yes. The day after Shevardnadze gave it to my father it was burnt down. It was done on purpose to make him leave. They didn’t want a functioning theatre at that time. Now, I think I’ve reinforced our slogan – “We are building a theatre”. But it’s still a difficult period. I decided that this theatre must not stop.
The rebranding will eventually take place and the whole image of it will change. My goal is to preserve my father’s classics and give people the opportunity to watch it. This said, we must also embrace the modern culture and move forward.
✱ Photograph courtesy of the artist.
What is modern theatre for you?
Amiran Shalikashvili Junior: Well, live music for example. It could have its own band. I want to put on my father’s plays with an orchestra. But, besides this, I’m looking for movements, in different directions. I’m also planning to involve acrobatics and ballet. This is why we need a massive stage.
My father’s work was special, that’s why it’s hard to bring in something new. If you touch the old masterpieces, you can ruin them and new ones might not even turn out to be as good. I think my father started a whole new era, which must be spread all over the world.
To be honest, even today, we are moving forward only thanks to his work, but it’s time for something new. We must move forward and attract the younger generation.
Which play was the most successful?
Amiran Shalikashvili Junior: An artist may have a favorite but this man had many…our main play is still “Stumar-maspindzeli” because Georgian chokha and khabalakhi are represented there. It also includes Georgian music and everything Georgian in general. When a new student enters this play for the first time we tell them: ”You’ve been baptized in Georgian pantomime”.
Do you get new artists applying to join the theatre?
Amiran Shalikashvili Junior: When we got 78 applications a year ago, that was when I realized that the interest is rising. But it doesn’t matter how much we talk about this, we still encounter problems. You know, I have a studio for kids. When a parent plans on bringing their child to us, they check out our studio first. When they see debris everywhere, many turn around and leave.
But pantomime is a healthy way of life. I’ve told this story many times. I had scoliosis. Doctors were saying that it couldn’t be fixed, but since I’ve started doing this my back straightened. The doctor was like: “How did you do that?!”
How demanding is pantomime as an art form?
Amiran Shalikashvili Junior: Let’s start with the fact that actors in an ordinary theatre practice around the table, while our practice includes 4-5 hours of physical training. Parmomimist must always be in great shape, it’s unthinkable for him/her to skip even a day or two – it will certainly reflect on the play.
I think everyone needs pantomime. This is a stage culture and can be used by a singer or a drama actor as well. Let’s take Jim Carry, for example, he uses pantomime movements to pull the moon towards him. He’s a true pantomimist. Another example is Mister Bean.
✱ Photograph courtesy of the artist.
Your slogan says – “We are building a theatre” – what kind of theatre?
Amiran Shalikashvili Junior: When you want to develop something you need to have the technical part sorted – starting from lighting, to music and so on. The stage is pretty small too. Our four actors take the whole space. A brand new theatre needs to be built, this one just doesn’t fit the bill.
Yes, we have a nice theatre, classical and all, but a theatre in the 21st century shouldn’t be like this. It needs to be more flexible.
Maybe you enter today and see stalls, then tomorrow it will be a hall with tables and chairs or nothing at all and after that, there might be a DJ playing. I’m talking about a theatre at this level. I want a huge stage for the orchestra too.
What does the government think about all this?
Amiran Shalikashvili Junior: I don’t know about that but I know that Kakhi and I are committed. He, too, wants to get this running. We are opening the 55th season. The founders are long dead, only us, the youth, are left. The building was sold during the rule of the previous party. Do you know why I have an office on Rustaveli Avenue? To get back at them. Every time they pass this street they will get angry after seeing me here.
Selling our place was wrong. They should have at least relocated us to some other building, but they had no interest in that. Then a new mayor gave it back to us and some illusory theatre was formed. Corruption is rooted deep here. This country needs a theatre. My father didn’t even want it to be named after him, he said: “Just mention me as a founder somewhere down there”. You can see that this theatre belongs to the country.
Where do you plan to build the new building for the theatre?
Amiran Shalikashvili Junior: We’d be moving outside of the city, lake Lisi for example, some uninhabited area, where there will be no restrictions on music and other stuff. And there is no need to put a play every day, maybe twice a week or so. The rest of the time should be devoted to practice. People will attend, I am certain of it. They go to Black Sea Arena so they will come here too if we do the right stuff. But I can not yet tell you what stuff it will be. Shalikashvili’s ideas are a bit unreal but we will prove that this theatre needs to be built very soon.
What is needed for that?
Amiran Shalikashvili Junior: We need a piece of land and permission to build on it. We don’t need money, because in 2015 I was given an international center license. 40 countries signed the paper, where it’s stated that there should be an international center of pantomime in Georgia.
When we have the land, the engine will start straight away. And we will not only be able to accept our citizens to our academy but invite youth from Europe as well. This is good for the tourism and popularization of Georgian culture.
What’s your preference – directing or acting?
Amiran Shalikashvili Junior: Acting. I hate directing. But sometimes I have to, as I am doing my master’s degree now, this is necessary too. They already sent me some script to film it on my own, but it’s still early for me. First I need to build a theatre.
How hard is it to play a role and what helps you with it?
Amiran Shalikashvili Junior: It’s very difficult even to explain it. If I don’t believe in the character there is no way my acting can convince the public. I have to believe at that moment that I am Terenti Graneli and that I’m writing a poem in a graveyard.
When I enter the stage the actual world ceases to exist.