Dance Dialogue: Focus on Shoghakat MLKE-Galstyan, Chief Coordinator of HIGH FEST

1 May

HIGH FEST International Performing Arts Festival was established in 2003 by Artur Ghukasyan. This festival gives Armenian audiences a great opportunity to get in touch with the values within the world of performing arts. The organizers aim to bring the best and most innovative companies to Yerevan, and provide its people with a rich and unique palette of worldwide art. At the same time, the Festival promotes Armenian culture in the international sector, making it closer and more connected to the world of performing arts.

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HIGH FEST presents productions in all genres of performing arts, including theatre (drama, comedy, mime, movement, circus, street performances, puppet/marionette, fingers and visual theatre), dance (contemporary, folk, classic), music (opera, classical, musical, contemporary, jazz, folk), and more.

Over 3,000 participants (500 foreign companies, organizers of well-known international festivals, representatives of international networks, producers, promoters and presenters, critics, etc.) from 50 countries have participated in the festival. Performances have been held in numerous venues (indoor and outdoor) throughout Yerevan.

Besides the Main and Fringe program of the festival, other events such as seminars, master classes, roundtable discussions, and trainings are organized to create a favorable atmosphere for the exchange of ideas and experiences on New Writing, Networking, Cultural Management, International Cooperation in Arts, Cultural Policy, and other issues. The master classes, led by foreign arts practitioners, concentrate on new trends and methods of contemporary performing arts and present these new approaches in different spheres of art.

My journey with HIGH FEST International Performing Arts Festival began in 2003. It was the first edition of the festival, I was 15 years old, and my brother and I had just established our theatre when we saw a TV interview with the festival’s president, Artur Ghukasyan. We were so inspired that the very next day we went to the office and said: “I don’t know English well, nor using a computer, but I am so eager to help you!” The following day I had already started putting up posters all over the city and preparing coffee in the HIGH FEST office. Now, I am currently the NGO’s head of international programs who runs the HIGH FEST International Performing Arts Festival. Although at first I felt extremely naive, I now am confident with my familiarity of every side of the festival – even within – as I also have performed and taken part in it with performances by MIHR Theatre.

Each programmer tries to find the ‘golden middle’ between his/her own aesthetics and the audiences’ needs. Armenia has an ancient history in national dance, but only a Soviet period of ballet dance. During the independent years, Armenia’s main outlet of dance education lied on the shoulders of the HIGH FEST International Performing Arts Festival. Thus, a lot of the programming of workshops begin with the choreographers. In the beginning, people thought that contemporary dance was hip-hop, but nowadays they seem to more accurately see the differences between urban choreography and modern ballet. The main criteria for our selection is having “inspiring” works; we are not searching for the big names or shows, we are searching for choreographers and performers who can inspire our dance community to further create and inspire others. It is difficult to define the term “inspiring,” but a feeling and a gateway to the region represented comes close to what we have in mind. Besides our own programming, we also have international programmers visiting the festival. We all have a similar vision of our wants and it is captivating to come together with this common goal.

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HIGH FEST was first established as a theatre festival, but since 2006 it has become a performing arts festival that welcomes all genres. I can definitely say that this change has been one my greatest achievements while working in programming with this festival. The performing art scene is so diverse and multidisciplinary that it is very difficult to distinguish between a dance performance and a theatre piece, a circus act or an artwork. That’s why we have removed boundaries in performing arts. However, I add here an unwritten rule to have dance shows take up twenty percent of programming.

We have been international in scope from the beginning, with the aim to support the artistic mobility of emerging artists. Each year we host around 20 countries and each time the festival becomes more diverse. The only country which has had a single participantion is Iran. Unfortunately, it is a very closed country to the international scene, but as our neighboring country we organize an Iranian theatre program to support its artists and have them internationally presented. For us, it is also crucial to keep a balance between countries, so if, for example, there are three shows from the same country, we try to limit any additional. From time to time we organize showcases of the participating countries; we have had experiences working with a Polish Dance Showcase and a Russian Drama Showcase. Additionally, we program small-scale shows on tour (up to seven people).

Those interested in participating in HIGH FEST should visit our website ( to request an application (it is currently being updated and will be active after June 15, 2018). They can also send an e-mail to to request an application. The deadline is the 30th of March of each year for that year’s edition, and the festival dates are 1-8 of October (the first week of the month). Applicants will be asked to submit photos and a full-length video of the performance. As an “open-hearted” festival, we also select pieces accompanied by rehearsal videos. The advisory board makes its selection by the end of April of that year. In May, the applicants hear back from us with their results and conditions of participation.

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