April 2012

Arts & Letters

'Life in Movement' by Bryan Mason and Sophie Hyde

By Anna Goldsworthy

Tanja Liedtke’s name was suddenly everywhere in May 2007, when she was appointed artistic director of Sydney Dance Company. The 29-year-old dancer and choreographer claimed to be “absolutely ecstatic” about her new role, and there was a great deal of ecstasy in the arts industry too: a notable lack of pre-emptive poppy-lopping, the genuine hope of generational change. Three months later, Liedtke’s name made the headlines again. While walking through Crows Nest in the early hours of the morning she had been struck and killed by a rubbish truck.

The story is clearly tragic and yet Life in Movement, the new documentary about Liedtke’s life and art, is not entirely a tragic film. Filmmakers Bryan Mason and Sophie Hyde mine footage from Liedtke’s past, and follow a group of her dancers touring the world, posthumously performing her final work. With a pacy soundtrack by DJ Trip, it is a moving, powerful film about a powerful (and always moving) woman.

As a dancer, Liedtke was incandescent, her long limbs amplifying every gesture, her body flaming across the stage. Her choreography was muscular, witty and heartbreaking, marrying physical comedy to virtuosity and to virtuosity’s underside, vulnerability. As a director, she was gruelling. “I got to the point where I felt if I wasn’t achieving one of these notes I was destroying the show,” says one of her dancers. And yet her dancers were devoted to her, admitting that her death still feels like “someone taking away food”. The film gently examines the aftermath of her death, as her troupe continues to rehearse without her, rudderless and a little narky.

Some of the footage is so poignant as to be almost unbearable. “This is what you’re going to look like when you’re middle-aged,” says a friend, as an adolescent Liedtke goofs around in a wig. Other clips illuminate her artistic process. “Where’s Tanja?” asks a teenage friend as she clambers out of a school locker; later this is transformed into her claustrophobic work, Twelfth Floor.

Liedtke was not without self-doubt. When she locks herself in a studio for a week with a camera, you can feel the air bearing in around her, like the most oppressive of blank pages. “Pull yourself together, pull yourself together” she repeats, slapping herself across the face. It was these doubts that prompted the long nocturnal walks that finally killed her; it was also these doubts that fed her art. “It’s in the process of making that you solve those doubts,” observes her long-term partner and collaborator, Solon Ulbrich.

“What does Tanja want?” reads a handwritten list that flashes across the screen halfway through the film. She wants to be surrounded by “inspired and inspiring people”; she wants always to be “in motion”. This inspiring film allows her just that, for a little longer.

Anna Goldsworthy

Anna Goldsworthy is a pianist and writer. Her most recent books are Welcome to Your New Life and The Best Australian Essays 2017 (as editor). Her most recent album is Beethoven Piano Trios.

'Life in Movement' by Bryan Mason and Sophie Hyde 
(directors), in national release, 12 April
Cover: April 2012

April 2012

From the front page

Not-so-hard Labor

Albanese has every reason to keep doing what he’s doing

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The fraught politics of Fire Fight Australia

The imperatives of commercial media mean that the bushfire crisis is unlikely to be a tipping point for denialism

Image from ‘Requiem’

Celebrating beauty’s passing: ‘Requiem’

Italian director Romeo Castellucci on his radical reimagining of Mozart’s classic

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Written on the skin

Trading the joys of a childhood spent in the sun for an adulthood under scrutiny on a skin clinic table


In This Issue

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Gough Whitlam & Enoch Powell

Malcolm Turnbull, Sydney, March 2012. © Julia Kingma

One morning with Malcolm Turnbull

On life in politics

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

All Frocked Up

Grace Kelly’s Gowns in Bendigo

'The Hanging Garden' by Patrick White 
(afterword by David Marr), Knopf Australia; $29.95

'The Hanging Garden' by Patrick White


More in Noted

Image of L’Arlésienne [detail], by Pablo Picasso

‘Matisse & Picasso’: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Hanging works by the two masters together highlights their artistic rivalry and mutual influence

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‘A Couple of Things Before the End’ by Sean O’Beirne

The Australian author’s debut story collection confidently converts the linguistic detritus of our era into something of lasting value

Utagawa Yoshimori, The Tongue-cut Sparrow [detail]

‘Japan supernatural’

The Art Gallery of NSW’s examination of Japan’s centuries-long artistic traditions depicting the spirit world and the macabre

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‘The Topeka School’ by Ben Lerner

The American author’s latest novel canvasses the seething hate speech of the burgeoning alt-right and white-boy rap battles in the Midwest


Read on

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The fraught politics of Fire Fight Australia

The imperatives of commercial media mean that the bushfire crisis is unlikely to be a tipping point for denialism

Image from ‘Requiem’

Celebrating beauty’s passing: ‘Requiem’

Italian director Romeo Castellucci on his radical reimagining of Mozart’s classic

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A gap too far

Despite fine words in response to the latest Closing the Gap report, the PM insists that politicians know best when it comes to the question of recognition

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Wildlife’s whispered traces: ‘Extinction Studies’

Lucienne Rickard’s durational art performance at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery reckons with extinct species


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