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Interview: Liisa Pentti

 Veronika Lindberg

Photo: Veronika Lindberg

Liisa Pentti´s new work Hauraat silmät – Fragile eyes premieres at Zodiak on 19th March. The work, combining dance, music and text, is inspired by the French philosopher Hélène Cixous’s classic essay The Laugh of the Medusa.

We asked Liisa before her premiere about the backdrop of the work Hauraat silmät – Fragile eyes; for example about the decision to use Cixous’s text as inspiration for a new work. You can read her answers below.


I have always combined dance, text and language in my work. Already during my studies at SNDO it was a crucial part of the works I created. In the 1980’s this was common and it wasn’t questioned – the teachers who visited the school, like Simone Forti, Katie Duck and Deborah Hay used language in their performances as well as the larger scale choreographer Pina Bausch, each in their own way. This question – why? – came across me only when the dance critic for Helsingin Sanomat, Auli Räsänen, brough it up in the 1990’s. She questioned the use of text and speech in one of my works and wondered why is dance not enough? This question is interesting and I think related to the tradition of Western artistic dance and the ideal of modern, “pure” expression.

I think of my choreographies as compositions that form an affective field of resonance through movement, sound, music and light. I feel I am a kinesthetic and aural person, and thus setting the final visual side of my works is often the hardest. The human voice, in all its forms – as breath, onomatopoeic and experiential expressions, music inherent in different languages, meanings of words and texts – together with movement form the backbone and core of my work, supported by sound design, lights, space and costume design.

Texts act as inspiration for many of my works and in the 1990’s I often used Marguerite Duras’s texts in my works. Duras, like Cixous, has created her own language that can be called feminine writing, l´écriture féminine. I have myself written some texts for my choreographies and dramatized texts written by others for my works such as Klaustro – shhh! (2017), Why Does My Sister Not Like Contemporary Art? (2014), The Weigth of My Heart (2011) and Travel (2006).

Feminine writing moves us nicely to Cixous’s works and why I chose to create a piece that takes inspiration from her. Dance is my feminine writing as Cixous describes it in her essay The Laugh of the Medusa. “It is impossible to define a feminine practise of writing, and this is an impossibility that will remain, for this practise can never be theorized, enclosed, coded - which doesn´t mean that is doesn´t exist.”

I try to approach the choreographic process as ground that is not theorized, locked in or coded – otherwise it would be impossible for me to create my work. Knowledge about the theories and codes of dance is important but during the choreographic process I try to keep myself free from my mind’s conceptualization so that I could listen to other parts of my brain too, other than the upper lobes. To steal and to fly, to quote Cixous.

I create whole works that might seem fragmented, but are driven by their own inner logic: same AND other, not dance OR movement, movement OR narrative. It is about breathing, sound, singing. Movement. Each mode of expression has their own meaning in the whole, in the in-between-the-genres. In the work Hauraat silmät – Fragile eyes I aim to create a limitless and trance-like state that brings the viewers and the performance together by the “same AND other”, to allow dream-like visions to the viewer, and also falling asleep.

In The Laugh of the Medusa Cixous verbalizes the bisexuality, plurality and limitlessness in all of us. This feels important and meaningful in this time of juxtaposition and confrontation.

Cixous also writes about the unnameable, the night, dreams, and the texts arising from these. Her essays that deal with writing have given me support during hard times. Especially now that the logic of algorithms has become part of Western thinking and it’s tradition that is already quite far away from the bodily experience. To me Cixous’s texts speak about a bodily experience that does not fit into this increasingly mechanic and visual time.

In the foreword of The Laugh of the Medusa the French philosopher Frédèric Regard writes that the text is at the same time political, theoretical and poetic expressing an original concept of time. I notice I have chosen the last, poetic option.

Fragile eyes are looking Medusa in the eye – Medusa that does not freeze you but laughs.