|Tanja Liedtke, provided courtesy Solon Ulbrich|
Not yet 30 years old, Liedtke moved a lot of people as a dancer, choreographer and colleague. A tribute, held at Sydney Opera House on August 27 and organized by her partner, Solon Ulbrich, family and friends, highlighted the breadth of her achievements and allowed artists from the UK, family from Germany and colleagues from across the Australian performing arts sector to come together.
Liedtke was due to take up the position of Artistic Director at Sydney Dance Company in October. Having been involved in her recruitment, I remain inspired by the undaunted young woman who swept up the Board and, following her appointment, the Australian dance community in an inclusive vision for the company. Liedtke’s plans were not yet fleshed out, but she clearly understood her new role in the Australian dance ecology.
Liedtke’s career as a choreographer may have been short, but her success was established. Her first full evening production, Twelfth Floor, was nominated for five Australian dance awards in 2006, toured nationally through the Mobile States network and received rave reviews. Liedtke’s most recent work, construct, which premiered in London in May, was another triumph. Allen Robertson, dance critic for The Times, wrote, “The surprise of stumbling across a fresh, fully-formed talent is one of the reasons we keep going to the theatre.”
Liedtke’s choreographic voice was inspired by a rich life experience. Her father’s work took the family of three children from her birthplace in Germany to Spain and the UK. Starting dance aged four, Liedtke studied at the International Ballet Centre in Madrid. She entered Elmhurst Ballet School in the UK but, drawn to contemporary dance, finished her training at the Ballet Rambert School.
In 1997 the family moved to Australia and Liedtke to Sydney where she found Tanya Pearson’s ballet school. Liedtke coached students there until auditioning for Australian Dance Theatre and moving to Adelaide in 1999. She spent four years at ADT, creating roles in Garry Stewart’s Birdbrain, The Age of Unbeauty, Plastic Space and Monstrosity. Liedtke began to make her own work for the company’s choreographic workshop season, Ignite.
In 2003, Liedtke’s talent as a dancer was spotted by Lloyd Newson, Director of DV8, on a UK tour by ADT. Newson invited Liedtke to join his company for the European tour and film for Channel4 of The Cost of Living. She returned to the company in 2005 to become the diva in Just for Show.
During this time Liedtke worked internationally, resetting Ignite productions, To My Suite and Forever You on De Anima Ballet Contemporanea in Brazil, making Angels Fallen for Akademie des Tanzes in Mannheim and Enter Twilight for Tasdance.
In 2006 Liedtke returned to Tasdance to create Always Building. She had also recently created work for David Hughes Dance Company in Scotland. Touring for Twelfth Floor in Europe was planned and her new work, construct, was in demand.
Whilst plans to honour Liedtke at SDC and through her extant work are slowly forming, her cruel loss is felt in Sydney, Australia and the world.
construct: tanja liedtke’s final work
Many beautiful and insightful things have been said after Tanja Liedtke’s tragic death, mostly by people who knew her better and were more familiar with her work than I. My thoughts on her come from the perspective of a colleague and independent dance maker who admired her work and, like many in the contemporary dance scene, was very excited about the prospect of her working as the new artistic director of Sydney Dance Company.
I met Tanja last year at Performance Space when she was in Sydney to present her work Twelfth Floor as part of a national tour made possible through Mobile States. I enjoyed the work so much that I went to see it twice. It was a beautifully crafted piece, intelligently composed. The choreography was inventive and original. I was especially impressed with the way Tanja had managed to bring together a group of excellent individual performers (Anton, Kristina Chan, Julian Crotti, Amelia McQueen, Paul White) and made them gel as an ensemble.
After Twelfth Floor, I was seriously looking forward to seeing more of Tanja’s work. That opportunity came in June this year when I happened to be in the UK at the same time as she was touring her new work, construct, to four British cities. I caught up with the show in Manchester, on the last day of the tour. Tanja not only choreographed construct but also performed in it, with Paul White and Kristina Chan.
Construct explores notions of construction and destruction, building and collapse. The bare stage is strewn with objects associated with house building, such as a work bench, a step ladder, wires, rolls of tape and loose timber planks. All these objects are at some stage integrated into the choreography, most notably the planks. In one section, the performers use the timber playfully to create a series of tableaux vivants transforming them from picture frame to blanket, from telephone receiver to toilet seat. In another section, Paul, standing on his head, balances a plank on his feet and performs an extraordinary juggling routine.
For large sections of the work, cartoonish characterisations and stylised, sometimes clichéd gesturing are all used to make visible the artificiality inherent in any kind of construction, no matter if it refers to architecture or the relationship between human beings. In the last third of the work, stylisation is dropped, giving way to a darker, more realistic exploration addressing the futility of construction and the danger of collapse. Tanja’s solo, crouching on the ground, utterly alone and very small, keeping herself entertained by using her fingers as puppets, was especially moving.
I remember thinking, after the show, that construct confirmed the maturity of Tanja Liedtke’s choreographic vision. Even though not yet fully developed, it was impressive and made me curious for more.
Let us hope that construct will eventually be seen by Australian audiences, not only as a memorial to Tanja Liedtke but also as a confirmation of her reputation as a distinctive, consistent and inspired choreographic voice.
Martin del Amo
During our time together at ADT, Tanja was a constant source of inspiration, fun and friendship. She had 1,000 clever ideas a day, and never gave less than 100% effort to mastering the difficult repertoire.
Every event, conversation and moment in her life sparked an idea in her genius mind. Backstage personal jokes turned into marvellous monologues in the show. Far-fetched ideas on the bus became brilliant scenes. Her mind was always at work.
Being employed by her was an opportunity I’m lucky to have had. She was relentless in getting exactly what she was after with incredible attention to detail. One of her greatest attributes was the degree to which she would let people contribute to her work. Although always certain of what she wanted, she was always open to suggestions and ideas.
Kristina and I both agree that the development and performance of construct with Tanja Liedtke was the highlight of our entire careers. It was a privilege to work, live and play with her
Tanja and I worked together collaboratively from 2000. She was always 100% focused and committed to her work and her dancers. Every little piece of the puzzle was important to her, both in her choreography and in her relationships with the people around her. She was extremely generous. I always felt incredibly inspired by her and therefore completely devoted to her work and vision, as did many of the lucky people who got to work with her. Tanja somehow knew the exact key to use to open possibilities within individuals and push them beyond what they thought was possible. Sometimes it was trial and error but the journey was always fulfilling. Tanja herself was always up for learning from her peers and dancers, which created a very open and giving work environment. We were all in it together.
http://tanjarocks.blogspot.com is a space for sharing memories of Tanja Liedtke
RealTime issue #81 Oct-Nov 2007 pg. 12
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