April 2012

Arts & Letters

'Life in Movement' by Bryan Mason and Sophie Hyde

By Anna Goldsworthy
'Life in Movement' by Bryan Mason and Sophie Hyde 
(directors), in national release, 12 April

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 writer and pianist. She is director of the cultural policy program at the Stretton Institute and director of the J.M.Coetzee Centre for Creative Practice at the University of Adelaide.

From the front page

Image of Anthony Albanese

How to be a prime minister

The task ahead for Anthony Albanese in restoring the idea that governments should seek to make the country better

Image of the Kiama Blowhole, New South Wales

The edge of their seats

Lessons from Gilmore, Australia’s most marginal electorate

Image of Peter Dutton and Sussan Ley

The future of the Liberal Party

Peter Dutton doesn’t just have a talent problem on his hands

Image of Australian Army Cadets on parade. Image via Alamy

Ghosts in the war machine

Does the military attract violent misanthropists, or are they forged in murky theatres of war?

In This Issue

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

A Romantic B&B

The Bourbon & Beefsteak in Kings Cross

A Port for the Soul

Aki Kaurismäki’s 'Le Havre'

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

The Big Tumbleweed

The Docklands and the Broken Wheel

The Aztecs' album 'More Arse than Class', 1974. © Aztec Music

That Blockhead Thing

Aztec Music’s Archaelogical Dig


More in Noted

Cover of ‘Trust’

‘Trust’

The American novelist Hernan Diaz audits the silence of great wealth in a story of four parts presented as novel, autobiography, memoir and diary

Still from ‘Irma Vep’

‘Irma Vep’

Olivier Assayas revisits his 1996 film in a delicious palindromic limited series, in which a frazzled director remakes his ‘Irma Vep’ film into a TV series

Cover image of Louise Kennedy’s ‘Trespasses’

‘Trespasses’

The powerful debut novel from Irish author Louise Kennedy is a masterclass in emotional compression

Cover image of Paul Dalla Rosa’s ‘An Exciting and Vivid Inner Life’

‘An Exciting and Vivid Inner Life’

Alienations and fantasies of escape unify the stories in Australian author Paul Dalla Rosa’s debut collection


Online exclusives

Image of Australian Army Cadets on parade. Image via Alamy

Ghosts in the war machine

Does the military attract violent misanthropists, or are they forged in murky theatres of war?

Composite image showing John Hughes (image via Giramondo Publishing) and the cover of his novel The Dogs (Upswell Publishing)

A dog’s breakfast

Notes on John Hughes’s plagiarism scandal

Image of Erin Doherty as Becky Green in Chloe. Image supplied

App trap: ‘Chloe’

‘Sex Education’ writer Alice Seabright’s new psychological thriller probing social media leads this month’s streaming highlights

Pablo Picasso, Figures by the sea (Figures au bord de la mer), January 12, 1931, oil on canvas, 130.0 × 195.0 cm, Musée national Picasso-Paris. © Succession Picasso/Copyright Agency, 2022. Photo: © RMN - Grand Palais - Mathieu Rabeau

‘The Picasso Century’ at the NGV

The NGV’s exhibition offers a fascinating history of the avant-garde across the Spanish artist’s lifetime