Stage Door News

Toronto: There will be a celebration of the life of director Hillar Liitoja on September 16

Monday, September 11, 2023

There will be a Celebration of Life for Hillar Liitoja this Saturday, September 16 at The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen Street West (7:30pm), preceded by an exhibit honouring Hillar's work in the Toronto theatre community over four decades. 

Erik Hillar Liitoja died peacefully June 2, 2023.

"A true creative visionary, his legacy lies in the impact that his productions with DNA, the company he founded in 1982, exercised on a generation of creators, performers and audiences. An original thinker whose unique approach to time and place in the creation of theatre and dance was only matched by his revolutionary use of music, light, silence and movement, it is appropriate that his opus remains unclassifiable except for one word: brilliant." Robert Wallace

Born June 18, 1954 in Toronto to Leo and Heljo (both deceased), survived by brother Ingvar and family, stepmother Mary, and relatives in Estonia.

Hillar's relationship with Art began at a young age. Starting piano at age six, he was regularly winning recital competitions by his teens. In 1977 he graduated from UofT with a Bachelor of Music in Performance, but by 1979 he had abandoned the goal of becoming a concert pianist and in 1982 he founded DNA Theatre.

In its first years, DNA produced a number of works revolving around the poetry of Ezra Pound. Recalling his first production years later, he wrote "I scrambled and darted to make my first piece, POUND FOR POUND (1982), wherein the audience was concussed by its immersion and envelopment in polyphonic strangely-musical cacophony."

In the next decade DNA produced some two dozen works. Awards included the Floyd S. Chalmers Canadian Play Award in 1994 for his play THE LAST SUPPER (1993), a jury prize for Innovation in Theatrical Writing at the Festival de Théâtre des Amériques in 1987, four Dora Mavor Moore Awards: HAMLET (1989); SICK (1991); and two for THE LAST SUPPER (1994) - Outstanding Direction plus Outstanding Production, Small Theatre Division.

In the 1990s, DNA created a major new cycle inspired by the great theatrical visionary Antonin Artaud. The effects of that research would go on to inform his future work, challenging Hillar to push his own artistic boundaries and to find new avenues of creative expression. Following the Artaud Cycle, Hillar apprenticed under James Kudelka at the National Ballet of Canada, going on to create three ballet productions.

In 2017, Hillar received the inaugural Canadian Acker Award for lifetime achievement encompassing decades of ground-breaking, cutting-edge, risk-taking creation.

A voracious reader, in the 2010's Hillar took up writing, penning a number of articles, and a book THE OULIPO CHALLENGE (2019).

The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen St W. (at Lisgar St) will host an exhibit remembering Hillar, from Mon Sept 11 to Sat Sept 16, 8:30 AM (9:00 AM Sat) to 6:00 PM, ending in a public Celebration of Life event on Sat Sept 16 - doors open 7:00 PM, event starts 7:30 PM.

Photo: Hillar Liitoja. © 1993 Boris Spremo.