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JAUNAIS RĪGAS TEĀTRIS (NEW RIGA THEATER) OF ALVIS HERMANIS

At the turn of the 21st century the most outstanding personality in the Latvian theater is director Alvis Hermanis (1965). He has created the only laboratory-type theater in Latvia, the New Riga Theater (JRT), whose original aesthetic postulates are now well known internationally.

Ever since his debut with the starkly minimalist "Kā lēna un mierīga upe ir atgriešanās" (1993, based on Steven Soderberg), Hermanis is engaged in carrying out provocative ideas that can claim originality in the Latvian context, by synthesizing various styles, centuries, and cultures. The postmodernist aesthetics imbued such stage works as Yukio Mishima’s "Madame de Sade" (1993), Oscar Wilde’s "The Picture of Dorian Gray" (1994) yet, as he took over the post of director of JRT in 1997 he recognized the need to expand the theater’s audience along with experimenting. That he first accomplished with the hyperrealist, psychologically sophisticated interpretation of Alexei Arbuzov’s "My Poor Marat" (1997), which has not left the stage for over a decade. Hermanis tends to make use both of decorative splendor, for instance, dressing the actresses in Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz’s "The Maids of Wilko" (2000) in Art Deco style, and expressive minimalism ("The Story of Kaspar Hauser", 2002).  Wide international recognition was earned by the production of Nikolai Gogol’s "The Government Inspector" (2002) shaping it into a striking theatrical grotesque where the dream of la dolce vita by a bunch of provincial fatsos turns into a collective phantasmagoria.

At the beginning of the new century, the creative method of Hermanis and JRT changes fundamentally. Postulating that any individual life contains more drama than all of Shakespeare, the director practically turns away from the traditional play, turning each production into a collective research project. Without a single line of text, relying only on precise psycho-physical expression, actors Baiba Broka, Guna Zariņa, Vilis Daudziņš, Ģirts Krūmiņš, and Kaspars Znotiņš create a convincing portrayal of a single day in the life of old people ("Garā dzīve", 2003). A kind of reality show aesthetic, dismantling the borders between life and art, is used in the stage production of "Tālāk" (2004). A return to text is the project "Latviešu stāsti" (2004), a series of twenty real life stories about Latvian people that resulted from "field research" by actors. This collective anthropological research has continued to evolve in such productions as "Latviešu mīlestība" (2006), "Klusuma skaņas" (2007), and "Zilākalna Marta" (2009), which together form an eloquent testimony about Latvian society’s spiritual and physical existence.

A recent addition to the creative program of JRT has been the disturbing excursions into the history of the 20th century totalitarianism in the stage production of Vitaly Sorokin’s novel "Ice" (2005) and the reassertion of human values in the adaptation of Tatyana Tolstaya’s short story "Sonya" (2007).

At the moment, Hermanis’s JRT is the most youthful theater in Latvia engaged in constant experimenting and regularly invited to international festivals and guest performances. An internationally recognized professional, Hermanis has also taken over as the new leader in Baltic theater hitherto dominated by representatives of Lithuanian metaphoric theater: Eimuntas Ņekrošius, Oskaras Koršunovas, and Rimas Tuminas.

Guna Zeltiņa

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