Australian Dance Theatre: Construct
Space theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre
Recognised as one of Australia’s most promising young choreographers, Tanja Liedtke was about to commence as artistic director of Sydney Dance Company in 2007 when she was tragically killed in a road accident. Construct, meant to be the last work she would make before taking up her appointment, sadly ended up being the last work she ever made. To mark the 10th anniversary of her death, the Tanja Liedtke Foundation, supported by Australian Dance Theatre, has funded a remount of Construct directed by original cast member Kristina Chan. Liedtke, along with the original cast members Chan and Paul White, began her professional career at ADT, so the company has a strong connection with her legacy.
Liedtke states in the program notes that the word “construct could apply to many things, from personal careers and relationships, to larger matters”, and this broad understanding is reflected in the work itself. Construct opens in a worksite bedecked with ladders, power tools and extension cords. Clad in overalls, Kimball Wong attempts to balance two women, Marlo Benjamin and Jana Castello, who are as stiff as planks of wood, against each other at precarious angles, then frantically tries to avert their toppling over. Reliant on split second timing, this extremely funny sequence has the audience laughing out loud. However, the light-hearted mood is soon undercut when Wong starts to wield power tools to fix the women in place, suggesting a far more ominous relationship.
This rapid switch in mood is repeated as the piece works through numerous variations on the theme of construction. The dancers make structures out of slats of wood: picket fences, picture frames, doorways and minature houses are rapidly assembled and dis-assembled: at times, it feels as though the wood itself is dancing through the space. A blackout sequence has them posing in silhouette as lovers and workmen, before a resounding expletive signals a hammered thumb. A finger dance between Wong and Benjamin on a saw horse suggests romance, but then the complications of constructing a relationship become evident in sequential couplings. A family unit is constructed and a child is born, with all the resentments and frustrations of family life evident in rapid fire changes of focus and mood. The work ends with one last construct as Wong encases his partner in a wooden cage-like structure: a devastating image of the darker side of human relationships in which we so often oppress and limit each other.
DJ Tr!p’s live soundscape of machine noises, gentle guitar and natural sounds and Geoff Cobham’s lighting add immeasurably to the work. The greatest credit, however, must go to the dancers, who are superb: not only do they perform Liedtke’s fast-paced choreography with absolute assurance and athleticism, but they also capture the humour and the darkness in this complex and multi-layered work. Credit too to Chan, ably assisted by Craig Bary, who was the rehearsal director of Contruct’s international tour shortly after Liedtke’s death. This remount is a terrific and very moving tribute to an enormously talented choreographer, and a poignant reminder of how much the entire dance community lost with her untimely death.
– MAGGIE TONKIN