Last week we visited Batumi, Georgia, for two shows at the brilliant street theatre festival, Heat Batumi. Georgia’s most popular holiday resort, Batumi rests on the Black Sea, across the water from Bulgaria, and strikes a fascinating crossover between Europe and Asia. The beautiful old mediterranean buildings, which make up a large portion of its centre, are nessled right next to brand new glass tower blocks, huge luxury hotels and striking contemporary architecture. Everywhere you look, you can see something unexpected, whether it be colourful murals and artworks, ornate clocks and street lamps, exaggerated water features, or simply the contrast between one delapidated house and its towering, lustrous neighbours.
The people in Batumi (many of them hailing from Tbilisi, the other side of Georgia), though seemingly reserved and serious on first impression, were incredibly friendly and polite, and we were treated with the utmost hospitality throughout our stay. Even on our arrival at the airport, we were greeted by typically dour security staff at passport control, who, after studying our passports, proceeded to hand out free bottles of Georgian wine as a gift.
The Black Sea, it turns out, really is rather black. On our final night in Batumi, we took a walk along the beach and dipped our toes in the warm sea water. There were still people swimming at around 2am, and the lack of definition between the night sky and the ocean was such that their heads looked to be floating in mid air, or in the deep abyss. It was both intriguing and a little terrifying, hence we took our chance for a swim the following morning, when the sun was out and the winds and waves were high. Though perhaps not great for snorkelling or seeing much sealife, this was one incredibly satisfying place to swim.
While the days were largely spent lounging around the pool in the sun, wondering how life as a performer got so good, the gigs themselves were among the hardest I have ever done. The temperature during the day was around 30 degrees celcius, and rarely dropped below this after dark. Above all, it was the humidity that really took hold of us during each performance; after finally getting used to the intense heat, one’s face would stream with sweat, until it felt like you were swimming in a pool of moisture in which you were barely able to breathe. Then add catsuits, layers of sequins, and heavy drums, plus long distances to travel whilst dancing and drumming for an hour straight… And yet it was also the most fun I’ve ever had; the crowd were incredible, following us with every move, dancing along to every groove, responding to our calls, faces lit up with excitement. Despite the heat, it was in many ways the perfect gig. It was worth keeping going until the very last minute, especially to hear the organiser’s enthusiastic praise as we returned to the dressing room: ‘The people here never react this way,’ she said, ‘Tonight, you brought Batumi alive.’
And here are a few bits of the gigs themselves: https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=81&v=AirVkuAp03o