Tango Lugāno

Recipient of the PBLA (World Free Latvian Association) Cultural Award.

A haunted satire about expectations and reality, written in the time of perestroika.

Tango Lugāno was the second musical drama I wrote and directed in Latvian with composer Dace Aperāne. It was commissioned by the Latvian Youth Song Festival in Quebec in 1987, and produced for a second time at the Bathurst Street Theatre, Toronto, in 1989. The set was designed by Balvis Rubess.

The story was based on my considerable knowledge of the lives of poets-activists Rainis and Aspazija. In Tango Lugāno, they had faked their deaths and fled to Switzerland where they’d turned into immortal ghosts. The musical was set in present-day 1989, when two separate teams embark on a mission of finding the poets' archives – one from Soviet Latvia, the other from the American diaspora. A collision of political cultures was inevitable.

This production involved both amateurs and professionals such as the actress Skai Leja and the singers Laila Saliņs and Pauls Berkolds playing Aspazija and Rainis respectively. It was written and produced during the ferment of perestroika and the show was invited for a guest run at the Daile Theatre in Riga in 1990. This was a daring move on their part, the first time a theatre performance entirely created by artists who were born into what our parents called exile was presented to a Latvian public. Our arrival had considerable social and political significance. The Canadian government supported our tour financially and the thousand-seat theatre was sold out every night; every night we were met with standing ovations. Even before we arrived the play was published in the provocative literary magazine Avots, in 1989, Nrs. 2 and 3. Latvian Television recorded the live production. The renewal of an independent Latvia was still far off in the future in 1989, yet Tango Lugāno was an assured step towards freedom. 

The critic Viktors Hausmanis noted that the play ‘reveals the author’s vivid imagination, and her controversial and untraditional way of thinking.’


Pauls Berkolds, Pauls Raudseps, Māra Abene, Skai Leja, Laila Saliņa, Ivars Stārasts, Tango Lugāno

Opening night, Daile theatre. Baņuta Rubess is on the far left, Ieva Šmite plays the Child, Tango Lugāno

Rainis solo, with Aspazija in the background, Tango Lugāno