Tanja Liedtke: Twelfth Floor @ Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

performed by
Anton, Kristina Chan, Julian Crotti, Amelia McQueen, Paul White

concieved and directed by
Tanja Liedtke
It’s all too easy to focus on Tanja Liedtke’s own poignant story.

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 power games cease being games.

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.

Though Twelfth Floor is walking on oft-visited ground and at times it tip toes fairly close to clich, 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.

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