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DAILES THEATER OF EDUARDS SMIĻĢIS (1920 – 1964)

Eduards Smiļģis, an actor, stage director, reformer of Latvian stage art, founder and director of Dailes Theater was born in 1886 in Riga. Even though he was educated and had good prospects as an engineer, his love for theater took the upper hand and in 1912 he joined the New Riga Theater (1908-1915) troupe. Evacuated to Russia during the war, Smiļģis returned to Riga in the spring of 1920 with a plan for a new type of theater.  On November 19, 1920 this new theater, Dailes Theater is opened with the production of Rainis’s "Indulis un Ārija" staged by Smiļģis. 

Side by side with the set designer and theoretician Jānis Muncis, Smiļģis launched his reforms, presenting a model of a contemporary, sovereign theater with stylization, dynamic visual form and radical changes in the stage design, allowing for transforming the locus of action with the help of columns, pedestals, special lighting techniques, etc. He formed a group of consultants, including not only Muncis but also the choreographer Felicita Ertnere and composer Burhards Sosārs. The collaboration between Smiļģis and Muncis received international acclaim at the Exhibition of Decorative Arts in Paris in 1925. gadā. After Muncis left for the United States, Smiļģis found a new partner in the artist Oto Skulme.

Smiļģis formed his ensemble of actors of both those educated in drama schools and studios at Dailes Theater and also those who have acquired their mastery through practical work (E. Viesture, L. Bērziņa, I. Laiva, A. Ābele, A. Filipsons, K. Veics, G. Žibalts et al.). For Smiļģis, the summits in the development of the theater are found in the classical dramas of Shakespeare, Schiller, and Rainis. He is highly professional playing the leads in such productions as Ibsen’s "Per Gynt" (1921 and especially 1939), Lagerlöf’s "Gösta Berling", Shakespeare’s "Julius Caesar" (1934), "Othello" (1937), Goethe’s "Faust" (1940). Smiļģis uses the principles of commedia dell’arte in staging Latvian classical comedies by Blaumanis and Alunāns; he cleverly modernizes Shakespeare’s comedies.

Smiļģis reaches his peak around the time of the Second World War when he directs productions inspired by humanist ideals: Mārtiņš Zīverts’s "Minhauzena precības" and "Vara" (both 1941), Schiller’s "Maria Stuart" (1943) and "Die Verschwörung des Fiesco zu Genua" (1944), Shakespeare’s "Romeo and Juliet" (1943).   

After the war, the troupe is joined by young actors who have mastered the Daile stylistics in the theater’s studio: V. Artmane, H. Liepiņš, E. Pāvuls, V. Skulme, and others. With them in leading roles, Smiļģis creates philosophically deep, poetic, and tragic interpretations of Shakespeare’s "Romeo and Juliet" (1953) and "Hamlet" (1959) as well as Rainis’s "Spēlēju, dancoju" (1956).  

Eduards Smiļģis was the artistic director of Dailes Theater until 1964 and died two years later. The former Dārtas Street now bears his name and his house now is home to the Theater Museum.

Lilija Dzene

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