"There was a remarkable list of people who applied," said company board chairman Tom Dery to the Melbourne newspaper The Age. "But what Tanja brings is great relevance to the company in terms of contemporary dance. She has amazing emerging talent that we're very excited about. But much more than that, her intellect, her passion and personality, together with her ideas, will allow us to move forward in terms of contemporary dance in Australia at a world-class level."
Her reaction: "I am absolutely ecstatic," she said in the announcement released by the company today. "It is a privilege to be chosen to lead Sydney Dance Company into a new era and an honor to be the successor of Graeme Murphy, an icon of Australian dance."
She officially begins her new job on October 2, and she will program the company's 2008 season.
Born in Stuttgart and raised in Madrid, where she began studying dance at age 4, Tanja Liedtke graduated from the Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance in London and settled in Sydney in 1996. She was a member of Australian Dance Theatre (based in Adelaide) for four years; beginning in 2003 she performed several times with the British company DV8 Physical Theatre, with which she toured Europe.
Liedtke has worked as a freelance choreographer for a number of years as well, for ADT and for other companies in Australia, Europe, Brazil and Taiwan. Her first full-length work, Twelfth Floor (2004), won the 2006 Australian Dance Award for Outstanding Achievement in Choreography.
Her most recent piece, construct, premieres at the Southbank Centre in London next week.
Murphy and Janet Vernon, his wife and co-artistic director, submitted their resignations last summer out of weariness with the company's persistent financial problems and with what they saw as a perpetual struggle to wheedle sufficient funding from state and federal governments.
For his part, Murphy told the Sydney Morning Herald about the company's choice for his successor, "I'm chuffed the board went in that direction. It feels like the chance of a rebirth and growth."
He amplified that sentiment in the company statement released today: "The Board made an excellent choice in selecting someone on the cusp of a really interesting career — someone young, who will grow in the role in the way that I had the chance to grow in the role from a young age. What is going to emerge from this will be a new era in dance, which is as it should be. A new adventure is about to unfold."
A new adventure indeed. Asked about her plans concerning the large repertoire Murphy created for the SDC over three decades, she told The Age, "At this stage it's not part of the vision ... Graeme is an icon in Australian dance, but really for me this is about my vision and the new direction I have in mind for the company and truly believing in that ... contemporary dance should be of the now."
At least two of Australia's most influential observers of dance approve of Liedtke's appointment. Herald dance critic Jill Sykes said that she is "absolutely delighted" with the choice: "She's the most interesting new choreographic talent in a decade or more I've seen in Australia. She's got such a fresh voice." And The Age's Hilary Crampton said, "It has been very hard to imagine who might be the next director because Sydney Dance has really been Graeme Murphy. But Tanja has demonstrated over the last seven years [that] she's a really significant talent."