Twelfth Floor

Devised by Tanja Liedtke

Dance Touring Partnership

Northern Stage, Newcastle, and touring

(2009)

Review by Gail-Nina Anderson

Twelfth Floor was the last work devised by Tanja Liedtke, the immensely talented dancer and choreographer who had recently been appointed as director of the Sydney Dance Company when, at the age of only 29, she died in a road accident in 2007. As an unintended epitaph piece, it works unnervingly well. Set in what is clearly an institutional environment, with walls painted that dull, calming institutional green, it holds its dancers in the limbo of space that is both theirs and not theirs, constricting and releasing them by turns. A single window reveals the sky and so charts a passage of time that could be any and every day.

Among the anonymous, unlovely lockers and benches two men act out the rivalry of their bodies, locked in a ludicrous duet of down-market masculinity. This clearly isn’t, however, a gym. There’s something simultaneously funny, pathetic and disturbing about the testosterone-driven display, counter-pointed as it is a shambling figure who tracks round the room marking the walls with chalk. The catalyst for change is the arrival of a girl, whose movements seem at first to turn timidly in upon themselves, in telling contrast to the twitchy, over-defined regimentation characterising the woman who delivers her into this uninviting environment.

The games now played out are those of adults locked into the dependency of children, with every shift in alliance and feeling drawn with the intensity of a playground game. There is no difference here between fantasy and reality, no way of perceiving the world beyond the little round of emotional and physical negotiations to which the characters have access. The light seen through the window changes, the soundscape can alter from throbbing beats to birdsong, but the room has become a self-defining universe where anything and nothing are possible.

The games which are played out, though, can be exciting, alarmingly physical and disconcertingly funny. This is no-holds-barred dance, taking no hostages in its visceral directness yet capable of an understated tenderness when the characterisation calls for it. When the loner with the chalk woos the newcomer by tracing round every step her feet make, the effect makes us literally see the tracks of a feeling that moves by its very ineptitude. A sequence with a revolving panel embraces the energies of slapstick in its rapid capacity to play through variations on a theme, while the sense of compulsion casts a disturbing light on even the most hilarious moments of acted-out physical expression. This is dance theatre, exploring without words the politics of enclosure, the institute and the individual. Each dancer seems to occupy the body of a character who carries their own agenda within them, allowing it to intensify under the scrutiny of the green walls. Their interactions are revelatory, demonstrating boundaries of personality brought into collision through movement. The drama of the situation feels open-ended – these compulsions, alliances and power-plays will go on tomorrow as they have today. Given a suitably responsive audience, dance so strongly informed by observed body-language hits with a directness denied to more formal modes, as well as calling up a wider range of reactions. The audience at Northern Stage was happy to let its enthusiasm show.