Armenia: High Fest

The High Fest International Performing Arts Festival, which this year marked its 10th anniversary, has the dual mission of bringing international contemporary performing arts to Armenia and promoting the nation’s artists abroad.

High Fest was born of Armenia’s need for a truly diverse arts festival, explains president Artur Ghukasyan. He previously led Nazenik festival, an event dedicated to mime and contemporary dance – and one of Armenia’s first arts festivals following its independence. ‘After that we realised that it is necessary to have a multi-genre festival which could become a central theatrical event in Armenia,’ he says.

Indeed, over the past decade, High Fest has grown to occupy a key position in Armenia’s cultural landscape. ‘We have gone from having one computer and fledgling experience in arts management, to a professional organisation,’ says Ghukasyan. ‘In 2003 we had around 16 companies and 20 performances at the festival; this year we had 70 shows. The most important thing is that we retain the enthusiasm we started with.’

The 2013 festival, which ran from 1-12 October in Yerevan, featured more 25 theatre and dance companies from 18 countries, staging performances across 10 venues. The headliners included the UK’s 1927 theatre and Tadron Teatro from Argentina.

‘The festival has a different design and slogan every year,’ says Ghukasyan. ‘This year we called it ‘High Chemistry’ and asked: “What is the festival? What is it made from?” Love and passion, knowledge and experience, strength and courage, talent and genius and many other ingredients.’

A significant part of High Fest’s development since 2003 has been its involvement with key performing arts networks such as the International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People (ASSITEJ), the International Network for Contemporary Performing Arts and the International Festivals and Events Association. ‘We’ve benefited hugely from exchanging information,’ says Ghukasyan. ‘These organisations are spreading our name all over the world.’

At its core, however, the festival aims to benefit the Armenian arts community. ‘We are trying to educate our audience,’ explains Ghukasyan. ‘By bringing the most innovative shows and the newest genres to Armenia, we hope that our audiences understand where their own talents could get them. Armenian practitioners have the opportunity to take part at numerous seminars and workshops run by top professionals from abroad. As a result, over the years we’ve seen plenty of local performances and projects within the festival programme; and after any High Fest, Armenian companies are always invited to other international festivals.’

Ghukasyan is under no illusions as to the challenges the festival faces in order to continue its upwards trajectory – but he’s ambitious. ‘We want to be the number one festival in the world. Of course Armenia doesn’t have the same resources as Edinburgh, for example. But we are talented and professional. Only by aiming to achieve the unreachable can we get to our maximum potential.’

By Simon Catling

Photo: Lithuania’s OKT/ Vilnius City theatre