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Georgia – A Ground-breaking Festival

Georgia, 1991

These two short videos show some of the juggling action.  Were you there or do you recognise someone who was? Leave a comment below.

It’s 25 years since a plane-load of western jugglers arrived in Tbilisi, capital of the newly-independent Republic of Georgia, for a juggling festival with the Georgian circus. The circus needed help and a sense of new possibilities after losing its lifeline from Moscow as the Soviet Union fell apart. The festival took place in a Soviet-era circular circus building amidst scenes of protest and political turmoil on the streets of Tbilisi.

The 163 visiting jugglers were billeted with families who met the plane at 3am when it landed several hours late from Moscow. Before leaving the arrivals hall, festival organiser Haggis McLeod briefed the jugglers on Georgia’s legendary hospitality.  Despite the hour, he said there was bound to be a table full of food and drink ready when they arrived at their host’s home. “If you’re tired, just go straight to bed, it’ll be fine,” he said, “but whatever you do, don’t mix the vodka and the red wine.”  Nobody went straight to bed.  A few people missed the warning about mixing drinks and spent the next few days in recovery.

In Georgia, hosting a visitor is an art and an honour. Being a juggler visiting Georgia in 1991 meant lots of feasts, hours of ritual toasting, and sometimes being hijacked to a picturesque village high in the Caucasus mountains instead of dropped at the circus building in downtown Tbilisi.

The festival was a feast in itself, with superb skills exchanged, understandings reached, and entertaining public shows which boosted the Georgian circus coffers. However for many participants, it was the once-in-a-lifetime moments shared with the Georgian people that are still remembered, 25 years later.  And the pogo sticks on sale in Rusteveli Avenue for only 50 pence!

The fun, adventures and mutual understanding shared between visiting jugglers and the people in Georgia inspired the formation of the Serious Fun Committee in 1993.  The festivals staged by Serious Fun volunteers in Thailand, Laos and Burma/Myanmar have been based on the same sort of interaction.  Everybody gives their energy and skills and everybody benefits.   We owe a great deal of thanks to the Georgian festival for showing us the way.  Serious Fun – it’s a state of mind.

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4 Comments

  1. Chris Norman

    Thank you for sharing – that brings back so many great memories. I have a big box of pictures, but sadly never got the one of us all in Red Square at 4:00 in the morning.

  2. JEREMY TWYMAN

    I was there – going back this September. Extraordinary time. I remember my host and I going out for a meal up in the hills where he ordered what appeared to be all the food on the menu and 6 bottles of wine for us to share…such hospitality. My host’s daughter presented me with a red rose at the airport when we arrived in the middle of the night…then the son played Mozart on the piano when we got home.

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