Latvia (Latvian: Latvija), officially the Republic of Latvia (Latvian: Latvijas Republika), is one of the three Baltic States in Northern Europe, bordered by Estonia, Lithuania, Russia, and Belarus, and sharing a maritime border to the west with Sweden. The capital city of Latvia is Riga.
The first evidence of the puppet theatre in Latvia dates from the 16th century when a puppet character named Kipars is mentioned in some folk texts (“The soldier plays, the dog drums, and Kipars dances in his motley pants”).
In 1915, some Latvian puppeteers led by Jāzeps Grosvalds (1891-1920) combined forces to form a sort of company, and produced the first Latvian puppet show, Zala Puke (The Green Flower), performed in a private apartment.
Actor, director, and puppeteer Ivan Rudenkov (1887-1950) formed the first genuine puppet company in 1923, which operated intermittently until 1947. He closely collaborated with actor Kristap Linde (1881-1948), a graduate of the Saint Petersburg Imperial Theatre School.
During the 1935-1936 season, the painter Herbert Liikum (1902-1980) gathered a small group of puppeteers in the Daile theatre where they performed children’s shows, notably The White Dove by Julijs Lacis, The Misfortunes of Pogitis, and Peteris and Mikelis by Nikolajus Lejaskalns.
But the real pioneers of professional Latvian puppetry were the members of the Artistic Ensemble of the Latvian Republic which was founded during World War II and performed behind enemy lines, in Ivanovo (Russia). At the end of the war in Europe, the group returned to Riga where it received the status of a national company from October 4, 1944, under the leadership of the translator Janis Zhigurs (1915-1988) and the poet Mirdza Kempe (1907-1974). The company’s latest development is linked to the names of Tina Hercberga (1921-2004), Arnolds Burovs, Arvids Cepuritis, Hermanis Paukshs, Valdis Pavlovskis, Vija Bluzma, Maris Koristins, Pauls Shenhofs, Andris Mangalis, Ilze Vitolina, all directors and designers. The company performs in Latvian and Russian. In 2005, there were seventeen trained puppeteers, performing under the directorship of Vija Bluzma. Since 1954, the repertoire has comprised the classical and the contemporary: Bertolt Brecht’s The Three-Penny Opera, Jaroslav Hašek’s The Good Soldier Švejk, Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron, William Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, Prosper Merimée’s Carmen.
In the seventy years of its existence, the Latvian Puppet Theatre (Latvian: Latvijas Leļļu teātris) in Riga has taken part in many international festivals and has toured extensively in Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, France, Japan, Iran, Iraq, Poland, Russia, Slovenia, Sri Lanka, and Ukraine.
Elsewhere, there are two small companies that perform in the northern city of Liepaja on the Baltic seashore, and there are other small private and amateur groups.
The Latvian Academy of Culture (Latvijas Kultūras akadēmija) offers a training programme in puppetry leading to a Diploma.