Experimental Art Seen Through a Peephole
Paula Citron

It is hard to imagine another director/choreographer tearing up a wall of his house in pursuit of his art, but that is exactly what Hillar Liitoja has done for his new production she alone.

Peepholes, for lack of a better word, have been gouged out of the wall so that the nine-member audience can stand or sit in the second floor hallway and view dancer Magdalena Vasko in the privacy of a bed/sitting room. It is certainly an experience to say the least.

Liitoja and his DNA Theatre were once the bête noire of stage experimentation. Somewhere along the line, he found dance, and his company has since mounted a series of bizarre dance theatre performances, many of them site-specific, and each one radically different from the other.

He also inserts himself into his art. As we nine gathered in the living room of his dilapidated Victorian house on lower Bathurst Street, he gave us each a printed sheet of specific instructions that we had to agree to obey  -  like not communicating with “she” in any way or interfering in the space. We were then carefully assessed according to height to determine our positions in front of the various placed peepholes.

Vasko’s bed-sit contains a mattress on the floor, a bookcase, night table, chair, lamp and candle, a cooking ring and a bar fridge. It is the mean-streets room of any struggling young woman strapped for cash, and Leslie Schroeter has costumed Vasko suitably in a T-shirt, track pants and furry slippers with her hair in a ponytail.

We first see her lying asleep, sheets and blankets askew. What follows when she wakes up is a carefully choreographed design of movement that has been dramatized by John Delacourt and directed by Liitoja, with Vasko getting credit for co-creation.  Nothing, and I mean nothing is left to chance.

The realistic if stylized movement presents an intriguing scenario of something gone very wrong. Vasko’s facial expressions have been choreographed in as fine detail as her physicality, and she conveys a sense of intensity, even of madness. She is compulsive-obsessive in her repeated stacking of books or holding her breath or rocking back and forth or straightening a pair of boots or breaking plates.

A knife plays a key role, as does what looks like bleeding pounds of flesh in the fridge crisper. A small object we never see is moved from table top, to under the mattress, to a drawer, to, finally, the garbage can. A card bursts into flame on the electric cooking ring. In fact, each of Vasko’s deliberate actions with the props becomes more and more alarming as time goes by. Occasionally, there are the faint notes of a Beethoven sonata, and the sound of a fan going on and off to add to the mystery.

I believe that a murder of a lover had taken place. Another woman said she witnessed a person who should be on suicide watch. Clearly, one will take away from this enigmatic scenario what one is able to see through the restricted vision of the peepholes. The woman wasn’t able to view the bloody remains in the crisper from her vantage point while I was.

Whatever one thinks of his output, Liitoja is an eccentric visionary. He is an original, and of that there can be no doubt. As a director/choreographer, he never fails to excite the imagination.

Incidentally, in the program thank-yous, the tenants, presumably of the house, are mentioned. They are brave souls indeed.

The Globe and Mail

January 17, 2007