Georgian (Georgia)English (United Kingdom)
EXPRESSIONISTCONSTRUCTIVIST STRIVINGS IN GEORGIAN STAGE DESIGN OF THE FIRST DECADES OF THE 20th CENTURY

TAMAR BELASHVILI
George Chubinashvili National Research Centre
for Georgian Art History and Heritage Preservation
Tbilisi State Academy of Arts


The first decades of the 20th century are in many ways exceptional period. In the history of Georgian culture and art; in this respect, stage design is not an exception. By Kote Marjanishvili’s initiative, during the Season of 1923-24, the Rustaveli Theatre troupe started intensive work on Expressionistic plays.
G. Kaiser’s “Gas”, E. Toller’s “Mass Man” and Grigol Robakidze’s “Maelstrom” were performed one after another. Thanks to these plays, realistic, “naturalistic” drama, illusion of the reality and precise psychological motivation of the action established in Georgian theatre were opposed by the grotesque, mysticism, metaphor and artistic allegory. Despite the ambiguous reaction of the public, Expressionism was the first among the contemporary European tendencies to be established on the Georgian stage. Logically, such plays required adequate stage decoration. Kote Marjanishvili had trusted the stage design of the first Georgian Expressionistic plays to Kirill Zdanevich, already a distinguished artist by that time. The latter was the author of the stage design of “Gas” and “Mass Man”, whereas Kirill Zdanevich and Irakli Gamrekeli were both stage designers of “Maelstrom”. In the 1920s, Expressionism was based on social contrasts of the epoch, disappointment, almost mystical fear of Spengler’s “The Decline of the West”, sympathy with the revolutions and Utopian proclamations about global unity. Philosophical basis of the movement was formed by Nietzsche’s Subjectivist Theory, Husserl’s Cognitive Theory and Bergson’s Intuitiveness. Aesthetisation of the art object deformation became usual artistic mode for the expressionists, in order to increase artistic expressiveness. The tendency, which came from the fine arts to the theatre, was characterized by the state of exaltation and presenting the play as “Drama of Screaming”; there was an excess of characters deprived of individualism, pathos and metaphor. “Georgianised” German Expressionist dramaturgy had logically prepared the foundation for Georgian Expressionist play, visualized in local artistic images – Grigol Robakidze’s Georgian-European phantasmagoria was written; abound in Georgian mysteries and European Expressionist features. Before that, the audience of Rustaveli Theatre had never seen “The Phenomenology”, “Amor Fati”, “Dadaist Square” and paintings of Kirill Zdanevich and Irakli Gamrekeli united in one play. It would have been logical to fit the stage decoration created in the Expressionist style to the expressionist play; nevertheless, the stage design of Kirill Zdanevich had revealed in the very first play “Gas” that the artist was not going to solve the problem so easily. Several artistic trends (the Expressionism proper, the elements of Cubo-Futurism and especially, Constructivism) of the early 20th century were reflected in his sketches; it seems quite natural. Formation of Constructivism, newly emerged in early 20th century, was greatly influenced by Cubist-Futurist experiments (e.g., Tatlin’s “Counterrelief”). Abundance of Constructivist elements in the visual version of a play created by Kirill Zdanevich can be explained by natural logical sequence of events – as it is known, he had come to the theatre with vast experience in Cubism and Futurism. Constructivism (similar to Expressionism) was notably popular in the European and Russian Theatres in the 1920s. The decorations prepared for Meyerhold’s play “Mass Man” (L. Popova as a stage designer) are sufficiently illustrative. Here we deal with the extreme manifestation of Constructivism, when the form is preconditioned by the functional reasonability only. Majority of plays staged at different theatres of Russia at that period were analogical. Despite the chronological and thematic similarity, the stage design of Georgian plays is qualitatively different from the whole spectrum of decorative design of the early 20th century Expressionist plays. Special interest of Georgian artists (carried away by European tendencies then) towards the striving for national form can be considered as one of the reasons for the latter – fear to lose individuality increased by the progressing factor of civilization. One more feature, so called “orchestral painting” is discernible in the stage decorations made by Kirill Zdanevich for the mentioned plays. This manner of painting is distinguished by the mixture of styles and is associated with this author only. This one of the main features of Post-Modernism gives significance to the settings of the first Georgian Expressionist plays, which gives grounds to the generalization of this phenomenon as the category beyond the historical time. Stage decorations created for the first Expressionist plays performed at Rustaveli Theatre are the perfect examples of interpreting the ideas, shared with the European civilization and of an attempt to adopt the new form.


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