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Russian stage director Pyotr Fomenko dies

MOSCOW -- Pyotr Fomenko, a renowned Russian stage director who founded one of Moscow's leading theaters, has died. He was 80.

Fomenko, who staged more than 60 plays in Russian and foreign theaters during his career, died yesterday in Moscow, his theater said. The cause of death wasn't immediately known.

Fomenko began his career as an actor in 1958. He became a director in the 1960s, staging performances at several Moscow theaters. Some of his productions were banned by Soviet authorities for being politically provocative.

He moved to then-Soviet Georgia and then to Leningrad in the 1970s, eventually taking the helm of the Leningrad Comedy Theater in the 1970s, but lost the job in 1981 after another fallout with authorities.

In 1993 Fomenko founded his own theater, building a troupe from students at Moscow's theater academy, where he also worked as a teacher. The Pyotr Fomenko Workshop Theater quickly became popular thanks to his innovative approach to works by Shakespeare, Chekhov and other classics. The company performed at different Moscow locations before finally moving into its own quarters in 2000.

Colleagues admired his vision and wit and praised him as a pioneer who took Russian theater to a new level.

Even with his achievements, Fomenko said that he saw failure as a challenge and valued it more than success.

"A failure is sometimes more useful and more important both as a survival test and a source of feeling for drama," he said in a recent documentary.

He said his job sometimes gave him "moments of pure happiness when tears would well up in my eyes."

President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences, saying that Fomenko was "one of the leading figures in Russian and international theater."

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