Press Reviews

Tanja Liedtke's Twelfth Floor
» Twelfth Floor: Wycombe Swan and Oxford Playhouse
The Oxford Times, March 25, 2009
» It’s all too easy to focus on Tanja Liedtke’s own poignant story
musicOMH, March 9, 2009

There has been some nice preview coverage of Tanja Liedtke’s Twelfth Floor in the national and London press over Christmas and the New Year:
- Independent on Sunday included The Twelfth Floor in best of 2009 dance, 28 December
- The Times included in Debra Craine’s year preview, 30 December
- Time Out, dance highlight for 2009, 1 January

- The Times’ The Knowledge included in best of 2009 dance, 3 January
- Evening Standard, picture preview in Hot Tickets section, 5 January

» Funny and sad, sometimes at the same time
The Sydney Morning Herald, May 27, 2006
» Despite its short run, the exceptional performers make this a must-see
The Age, June 2, 2006
» Liedtke strikes back in compelling drama
The Australian, 12 May 2006



Twelfth Floor: Wycombe Swan and Oxford Playhouse

Review: David Bellan, The Oxford Times, March 25, 2009

Twelfth Floor was Tanja Liedtke’s first and only choreographic work – she was killed by a truck, aged only 29, two years ago. It reveals a major talent whose abilities should have been allowed to develop even further.

The piece is set in an institution. It’s not a prison, so perhaps it’s a psychiatric hospital. In the large bare room we find three assorted men. Craig Barry is tall, athletic and very macho, Anton is small, bespectacled and competitive, and lumpy Julian Crotti, who creeps round the walls in his baggy clothes, writing semi-literate messages on them in chalk.

The door opens to reveal two contrasting women. Amelia McQueen, tall and austere in a pink dress, expresses her uptight character in stiff little steps and jerky arm movements. Bossy and cruel, she dumps the arresting Kristina Chan among the men.

There are funny moments, but most of the time we see their pain, as boredom and aggression take equal turns. At one point the door, which is set in a revolving section of the wall, is open, and the inmates make a run for it. By cleverly swivelling the panel containing the door, they show us what is happening on both sides, and the bright colours on the side of freedom, until McQueen, the haughty bully, has them back inside.

There are some startling scenes as sexual frustration affects them in different ways. At one point Barry and Anton simulate sex against the outline of a woman chalked on the wall. In a scene off-stage, but visible through the open door to those on the right of the auditorium of the Wycombe Swan, McQueen is violently raped by these two, while Chan has gone for the unlikely Crotti as her choice for some on-stage foreplay. The traumatised McQueen is carried back in, stiff as a pink doll, and gradually, painfully, forces herself back to her feet.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Crotti in particular makes us smile as he chalks mis-spelt words on the wall. One of them is ‘escape’ and in the final moments Kristina Chan succeeds in climbing over it. To freedom?

Chan is a superb dancer, and Liedtke has clearly made the best use of her athletic abilities, her flexibility and also her precision. There is a striking scene when McQueen is trying to subdue her; a complex battle of rigid, interlocked arms.

This may not be a perfect piece, but it was a remarkable start, showing clearly that Liedtke was a master of characterisation and the creation of tension.

It’s all too easy to focus on Tanja Liedtke’s own poignant story.

musicOMH, March 9, 2009

Having won multiple awards for her work, she had just been appointed Artistic Director of the Sydney Dance Company when she died in an accident in 2007.

But any work needs to stand or fall on its own terms and this, her first, and only, full length piece, speaks of considerable talent and creative potential.

Twelfth Floor is a compelling, frequently amusing and ultimately rather disturbing hour of dance set in an unspecified institution.

The walls are painted a muddy mix of cream and green and the lone window is shuttered. Two men, clad in sloppy T shirts and track-suit bottoms, spar and play-fight while another chalks words onto the walls seemingly lost in a private world – it is possible to glimpse the word ‘escape’ among his scrawling.

A nurse-like figure escorts a fourth person into the room, a young woman. Though there are obvious parallels with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Liedtke’s piece does not mirror it too closely. Her nurse is not nearly as formidable as the Big Nurse of Ken Kesey’s novel. As danced by Amelia McQueen, she is a skittery, jittery thing in a pink uniform with neat little socks. Her movements are intricate yet jerky: robotic and repetitive. Her finger constantly jabs the air as if independent of the rest of her, seeking out transgressions, admonishing her charges.

The remaining characters sometimes stand up to her but at other times they cower in the corner, jiggling like pepper pots left on a washing machine during its spin cycle. A battle of wills plays out between them – inmates and nurse – and small victories are celebrated on either side. There is much humour in Liedtke’s work – especially during a well-timed sequence involving a revolving door and, later, when the inmates mock the nurse’s mannerisms – and at times it even approaches slapstick, but, always, there is this sense of tension just beneath the surface: the under-toad is lurking.

The piece makes clear that while it is possible to win in the short term, a certain status quo remains: there are lines that can’t be crossed and the consequences of attempting to do so are severe. The caged human has a capacity for aggression and violence and as the piece progresses the levity of earlier scenes is replaced with something much darker and more unsettling.

The mood is enhanced by DJ Trip’s atmospheric soundtrack, a blend of pounding beats and mournful accordions, ticking clocks and dripping water. The music compliments the dancers’ movements without dictating to the audience what they should be feeling. The power games cease being games.

Though Twelfth Floor is walking on oft-visited ground and at times it tip toes fairly close to cliché, it manages, in the main, to remain fresh and exciting to watch. The production as a whole isn’t as successful as some of its individual moments, but there is much here to revel in. Liedtke’s ability to convey character through movement, to build a rich and complex world, is considerable. It’s the kind of piece, flaws and all, which leaves you eager to see where its creator will go next. It’s such a shame we will never get the opportunity to find out.

Funny and sad, sometimes at the same time.

Review: Jill Sykes, The Sydney Morning Herald, May 27, 2006

THE institutional green of the walls is the first clue. Then the slightly off-beam behaviour of three young men in the spotlight as the audience take their seats. One is obsessively drawing and writing on the wall, another is knitting laboriously and the third is bouncing about in a kind of daze.

Twelfth Floor could be a physical lockup or a state of mind. Either way, this brilliantly incisive and perceptive dance work is disturbing, laugh-aloud funny and tragic. In turns and at the same time.

As I write, tears are filling my eyes. That is how strongly it affected me - then, now and, I expect, for a long while to come.

The choreographer and director, Tanja Liedtke, working with an impressive creative team, has found interesting and contrasting ways of moving her five performers to express their characters and difficulties in relating to the wider world.

Kristina Chan, as the young woman, uses yoga skills to wind her body into shapes that suggest a tortured mind. Yet they keep flowing in a way that indicates clarity of thought and intention. The viewer observes both, and the way the duality affects her personality.

Amelia McQueen could be the archetypal sadistic matron, with a jagged style that gives the stamp of her own problems, even before they are revealed. The parody of her mannerisms by the quartet in her charge is hilarious and one of many surges of humanity that power the piece.

While the subject is essentially grim, the beauty of the human spirit keeps bursting through the horror of containment of any kind. Who could forget Julian Crotti as the chalker on the walls, with his changing messages of escape, hope and desperation - "hello" cut back to "hell" - and his bird in a death dive with the words "cry like birds".

Paul White and Anton have a buddy relationship which sustains their characters through the pain they express in the most outwardly physical action of the piece. It can get violent and even at its most peaceful there is an undercurrent of unrest.

Born in Germany, Liedtke is an Australian resident who works here and overseas. In Twelfth Floor, she has created an extraordinary dance work for our times, one that can be interpreted in many ways. My only disappointment is its short season.


Despite its short run, the exceptional performers make this a must-see.

Review: Hillary Crampton, The Age, June 2, 2006

Tanja Liedtke's Twelfth Floor is a bleak exposition of the pointless behaviour of five characters condemned to a colourless existence. We are not sure whether the location is just some high-rise hellhole or a heartless institution of incarceration.

The audience is sucked into the mood upon entry. Performers amble aimlessly or scuttle in the shadows to the echoing of repetitive sepulchral chords. This is a place of no hope.

The action starts with two youths (Anton and Paul White) parading their muscular strength - they are natural allies, and programmed to compete in who can jump highest to who can copulate longest. The action is graphic. Liedtke uses their physiques - one tall, one short - to create the point of tension.

Another lost soul (Julian Crotti) scuttles around the edges, muttering, chalking words and diagrams in an endless plot to find escape. He is clearly a loser, one of life's rejects.

Enter two females, a diminutive girl (Kristina Chan) and a towering matriarchal figure (Amelia McQueen). Liedtke uses an exaggeration of ballet technique to exemplify her excessive control, which sends the others quivering into a corner.

Through exquisitely devised solos, duos and a wildly chaotic outburst that sees the mob invade the mysterious world of the matriarch, leading to her later rape, Liedtke builds the sense of inevitability - inaction leading ultimately to violent action.

Liedtke uses a large production team to develop the scenario and characterisation. DJ Trip's score incorporates background noise, heavy throbbing rock, and snatches of wistful melodies that support the dramatic dynamics. Strategic use of script development (though no dialogue) by Joshua Tyler, and dramaturgy by Paschal Berry insured that dance does not impede conviction. The performers are exceptional, each utterly convincing in their character-driven cameos.

Despite its short run, this show is a must-see.


Liedtke strikes back in compelling drama

Review: Alan Brissenden, The Australian, 12 May 2006

BEFORE going overseas three years ago, Tanja Liedtke was a striking dancer and budding choreographer with the Australian Dance Theatre. She joined Lloyd Newson's DV8 Physical Theatre in London, created works in Germany and Brazil, and now returns fully fledged with Twelfth Floor, yet another dance piece vindicating the existence of the Australian Choreographic Centre in Canberra, where it was developed.  Three men are on stage as the audience filters in. Paul sits on an overthrown cupboard, knitting; Stud is intermittently chivvying him; and the third, whose name may be Hopen, is feverishly drawing and writing with chalk on the grungy green and cream walls. Hollow gongs, water noises and scrapings come from DJ Tr!p's soundscape, the audience chatter quietening as the ticking of a clock becomes insistent. 

Contests between tall Paul and short Stud develop, humorously, but the mood darkens when a door opens and a tall, nastily authoritative woman in pink uniform brings in a girl, an anxious girl, who joins the boys, now standing in a line, shaking. 

It's the first of the matron's increasingly horrific intrusions. The frustrated Paul and Stud eventually take their revenge by raping her - offstage - and this brutality is contrasted with the love that sweetly grows between Hopen and the girl. The matron recovers, returns and destroys it, but there is nevertheless a final glimmer of hope. 

Emotions whirl and seesaw as the four inmates of this prison, psychiatric ward, school, hospital - whatever it is, you wouldn't want to be there - create brief lives between the matron's viciously controlling visits. 

Liedtke differentiates her characters brilliantly. Amelia McQueen as the matron has sharp, mechanistic movements and classical ballet steps in high heels, spiking her sadistic air with black humour. 

Kristina Chan as the girl dances with sinuous flexibility and with commanding angularity when under the matron's influence, moving through abject fear to gentle lovingness, hysteria and final determination. 

Actor Julian Crotti makes a strongly appealing character of the initially abject Hopen, who blossoms into normality through his relationship with the girl. 

Anton is a cocky Stud and Paul White a swaggering but sensitive Paul. Their swings from comic elation to tremulous apprehension and sexual vindictiveness are mirrored inthe stunning athleticism of their performance. 

Twelfth Floor is rich, powerful and compelling.

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Tanja Liedtke's Twelfth Floor