Life in Movement
Details: (M), 79 mins, Australia, English
Synopsis: In 2007, the Sydney Dance Company appointed 29-year-old choregrapher Tanja Liedtke as their first new artistic director in 30 years. But before she could take up the position she was killed a truck in the middle of the night. 18 months after her death he collaborators embark on a world tour of her work, while learning to deal with the grief of their loss.
A haunting portrait of a brilliant, troubled artist.
BRISBANE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Tanja Liedtke was preparing to take the reins as the artistic director at the Sydney Dance Company when she was struck and killed by a garbage truck near her home on Sydney’s Lower North Shore early one morning in August 2007. She was 29.
Life in Movement is an eloquent and moving tribute to the supremely talented dancer and choreographer. It’s a poignant story and compelling viewing, even for those who aren’t modern dance enthusiasts.
The doco co-directed and written by Bryan Mason and Sophie Hyde is an illuminating portrait of a gifted artist who was plagued by self-doubt and struggled with the stresses of being a perfectionist and the challenges and expectations of her new job.
The filmmakers expertly weave together self-shot videos, footage of rehearsals, clips from her full-length works Twelfth Floor and construct and other performances, and interviews with her partner/collaborator Sol Ulbrich, her parents, two brothers and co-workers.
In an ABC TV interview she gives a snapshot of her life: Born in Germany in 1977, moved to Spain where she began dance training, relocated to the UK when she was 11, attended Elmhurst Ballet School in Birmingham, moved to Australia and joined Australian Dance Theatre in 1999.
After four years with the ADT, she transferred to DV8 Physical Theatre in London. Its founder Lloyd Newson provides an insight into Tanja’s sometimes troubled mental state, telling the filmmakers, “Like a lot of people who are really strong, she had a fragility.”
Several days before she was due to join DV8, she rang Newson to say she was pulling out, revealing “I’ve gone through hell”. A few weeks later she reversed her decision and spent a year with the company.
She describes Twelfth Floor, her first full-length work, as a portrayal of people who are forced to live together for extended periods. For that she drew on her experiences in the eight years she spent sharing a dormitory at boarding school, and she researched life in mental institutions.
In one of the most harrowing scenes, Tanja videos herself repeatedly slapping her face quite hard and chanting “pull yourself together” until she breaks into tears.
Her final work, construct, as explained by Ulbrich, demonstrates how people “go about building everything in your life and your world around you.”
Tanja’s brother Boris last saw her when they drove to Frankfurt airport in June 2007. “She was full of self-doubt, crying, silent tears falling down,” he says. Anxious about her new role at the SDC, she told her brother, “I must produce something that is so outstanding that people will say you deserve this”. Boris adds, “She was not a happy-go-lucky person”.
Ulbrich and Tanja were together for eight years and planned to marry. News of her death was devastating to family and co-workers. “The world stopped,” says her other brother Patrick.
“In one second it destroyed so much,” says her father Kurt. “It’s very difficult to understand how fate hits you unprepared and out of the blue.”
The reaction from fellow dancer Julian Crotti: “The first thing I thought of was it’s the fucking story of Twelfth Floor, the story of the girl who goes to this crazy world, she has a crazy time and then she escapes.”
Ulbrich says, “Our companionship was so deeply entwined in everything we did. It was a level of deep personal interconnection on every level...Tanja was my life, the love of my life.”
To commemorate her life and work, Ulbrich and her fellow dancers staged a world tour of Twelfth Floor.
The doco is inventively photographed and edited by Mason and features a haunting soundtrack by DJ Trip.
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