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PĒTERIS PĒTERSONS AND HIS POETRY THEATER

Pēteris Pētersons (1923–1998) grafted Eduards Smiļģis’s early modernist legacy (symbolism, expressionism) onto the late modernism of 1950s-1960s West European and Russian theater (epic, existentialist, absurd), creating his own unique stage vocabulary. With his good foreign language skills (English, German, French, Russian) a rarity among Latvian theater directors, Pētersons was well versed the latest theories and tried to follow the latest developments in the Western and Russian theaters.

Pētersons demonstrated his concept most strikingly in two directions – staging classical works in innovative ways (Rainis’s "Uguns un nakts", 1965; Dostoyevsky’s "Idiot", 1969) and creating a new genre, the poetic theater. The interpretations of classics and the first part of the poetic trilogy, "Motocikls" by Imants Ziedonis (1967) were staged at Dailes Theater where Pētersons was chief director for seven years (1964-1970). The remaining two parts of the trilogy, "Spēlē, Spēlmani!" based on poetry of Aleksandrs Čaks (1972) and "Mystery of Man" after Vladimir Mayakovsky (1972) were produced at Jaunatnes (Youth) Theater where Pētersons, who had lost his job at Dailes, was invited to work by that theater’s chief director Adolf Šapiro. 

Poetry served as raw material for Pētersons. He wrote that he wanted to see poetry in action, to look for that intellectual/emotional impulse that is at the source of a poetic work. In the scripts for stage that Pētersons wrote in collaboration with Ziedonis, poems and plays lost their sovereignty, their fragments were put together in a new original composition with a sovereign system of poetic images. The poetic material, subjected to analytic stage techniques reminiscent of Pētersons experience with epic theater, gained new contemporary and topical content dealing with the dramatic, then tragic conflict between a creative personality and the crowd.  An ironic alienation and poetic emotionality, even sentimentality, formed a unique intonation that was appreciated by so many. The directorial method deepened gradually, becoming more complicated. In "Motocikls" there were still some static scenes with a declaiming actor at the center. In using carnival aesthetics in "Spēlē, Spēlmani!" and Russian agitprop from the 1920s in "Mystery of Man" a striking theatrical vocabulary was created where the non-verbal – music, song, choreography, the grotesque etc. – also played an important role.  The complicated tasks and the director’s confidence allowed the troupes to develop professionally and the principal actors to reveal a new facet of their talent – this was especially true of Uldis Pūcītis, the protagonist in both "Motocikls" (Pičs) and "Mystery" (Man), and Imants Skrastiņš "Spēlē, Spēlmani!" (Poet). Pētersons’s poetic theater was unique in the Latvian context where the realistic-psychological theater was dominant; it echoed the so-called synthetic theater of the 1960s-1970s developed in Russia by Juri Lyubimov, in Poland by Adam Hanuszkiewicz, and in France by Jean-Louis Barrault.

Silvija Radzobe

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