Film review: Life in Movement

BORN TO DANCE: The late Tanja Liedtke.
BORN TO DANCE: The late Tanja Liedtke.

Life in Movement, Documentary, 80 mins 12

When you lose someone you care about, what greater tribute can there be than to create a piece of art, not just dedicated to their memory but literally formed from their dreams. So it is in the Australian documentary Life in Movement, which follows the extraordinary life and untimely death of Tanja Liedtke, a talented dancer and choreographer whose legacy was tragically cut short in 2007.

Liedtke was a German-born, England-raised performer of enormous vision, internationally renowned for astonishingly creative shows while still only in her 20s. She considered the longing to dance was "brewed in [her] blood". Then, only months before she was to take up the position as artistic director of the Sydney Dance Company, she was hit by a truck and died.

Eighteen months later, those closest to her as friends and collaborators embarked on a world tour to present the work that Liedtke had created with and for them. The film interposes scenes of a gawky young boarding schoolgirl with rehearsal footage from performances once she had turned her dream into a career. There are gentle interviews with those in Liedtke's constellation who are still visibly grieving. Sol, her longtime partner in every aspect of their lives, is producing the tour, giving direction to the dancers while grappling with the challenges of seeing his lover's vision personified in her absence.

The scenes of performance art are simply astounding in their drama and innovation, and put paid to any prejudice one might have about "contemporary dance". The interviewees share insights into the demands Liedtke would place upon her company, inducing panic in some about the potential for failure, while also making evident the intense friendships shared, and the unfailing loyalty to their visionary leader.

Knowing what happens to Liedtke causes an air of tragedy to hang over the whole film but remarkably without its feeling mawkish or gloomy. Perhaps because in showing us her work, the film-makers succeed in selling us Liedtke's dream. This subtle yet immensely powerful tribute is nothing short of enthralling.


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