HIGH FEST International Performing Arts Festivals - EFFE Laureate

Simon Mundy - 09 Aug 2019

Simon Mundy interviews with Festival Director Artur Ghukasyan

Confounding expectations is something that festivals are designed for and so it should not be surprising, but somehow is, to find one of Europe's most daring programmes of contemporary dance and radical theatre in Yerevan. That was the intention, right from the start in 2003, says its Director, Artur Ghukasyan. 'We began with a company from Avignon doing a piece of street theatre called Funeral, which involved moving with a coffin through the city and at one point taking their clothes off and having simulated sex. We thought it would cause a lot of trouble so we warned the Cathedral, the city authorities and the police but actually 80% of people loved it – so we knew we should carry on and every year we have a strong street theatre element.'


In the 15 years Highfest has been held the emphasis has been on work that can show its strength regardless of language. 'With contemporary dance you have no problems,' says Artur. 'You need good tech facilities – lighting, floors, projections – but we have and it's easy to bring. We started with dance, circus, mime but I always said I wanted a multi-form festival and these days new theatre is limitless, working across all art disciplines.'

Artur began his career studying production at the Edinburgh Festival in 1998 and he realised that, even if they started small, the festival could grow into something special. The word high in Armenian means the country itself but Artur says the wordplay with English is deiliberate. 'So it also means Highlands, high mood, high standards and ambition. Now Highfest is a flagship event for Armenia and we have been called the most interesting theatre festival in Eastern Europe outside Moscow. We are trying to create possibilities for audiences to enjoy more complicated cultural experiences, not just relax with what they know already. If you want to relax, go to the sauna.'

For the region Highfest is especially important because Armenia is surrounded by countries with difficult social and political contexts which often limit access to the more challenging arts. 'We don't ask embassies for their recommended artists,' Artur says. 'We are not interested in officially approved shows.' Instead he himself views about 400 productions a year and works with colleagues able to offer something different. 'For example, we have found a producer in Iran who has a long list of young people who want to break down barriers,' and encouragingly (as with Georgia and Russia) Highfest has found that there are plenty of people keen to cross the borders to come and watch.

Note from the EFFE International Jury

This was a very strong application. The general arts festival brings theatre, dance and music to Armenia from an impressive array of countries. It is a cosmopolitan bridge and its focus is on inclusion in a complex context. The openness of the multi-disciplinary festival is not only reflected in its high quality programme but on inclusivity and social sustainability. Their collaboration with women shelters, orphanages and elderly houses in Yerevan is a true inspiration.

More information:

High Fest International Performing Arts Festival

01 October 2019 - 10 October 2019 - Yerevan, Armenia