Director Hillar Liitoja made his reputation as the wild man of experimental theatre. He is now a choreographer of radical ballets. After creating two dance works for women, Liitoja has set his sights on men.
On July 19 at the Theatre Centre, Liitoja unveils Red Light Green Light, a dance for five very talented male dancers, inspired by the children’s game of the same name. The piece is co-choreographed by ballerina Magdalena Vasko with input from the dancers.
Liitoja describes the piece as all muscle, testosterone and fight. In other words, boys being boys together.
Red Light Green Light was inspired by a visit to the Gdansk National Ballet School in Poland. Says Liitoja: “I had never been interested in men dancing classical ballet because it was all showing off. Then I saw these teenagers, and I was touched by their grace and honesty. I left Poland wanting to make a dance for guys. Magdalena and I have been talking about it for seven years.”
Liitoja’s interest in dance was first piqued by attending the late, lamented Festival international de nouvelle danse in Montreal which programmed avant-garde artists.
“I realized,” he says, “that my theatre work would be much richer if I could choreograph and use dancers. ”
Pandemonium (1993) was the first Liitoja work that included dance. To learn about ballet, Liitoja had a ballerina demonstrate every step in the Royal Academy of Dance’s dictionary. He then worked with a male dancer to discover the difference between what boys do and girls do in traditional ballet. To truly immerse himself in dance, in 2003, Liitoja got a grant to be James Kudelka’s apprentice when Kudelka was artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada.
Why does Liitoja call his choreography radical ballet? “The roots are in classical ballet,” he says, “but then I break the rules.”