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Print Version

Auckland Arts Festival 2013
Choreographer/filmmaker: Sue Healey
NZ dance artists: Mark Baldwin, Craig Bary, Lisa Densem, Raewyn Hill, Sarah-Jayne Howard, Jeremy Nelson, Ross McCormack, Claire O'Neil
Composer: Mike Nock

at Q Theatre Loft, 305 Queen St, Auckland
From 20 Mar 2013 to 22 Mar 2013
[1hr 20mins]

Reviewed by Jennifer Nikolai, 21 Mar 2013

The press on Virtuosi describes this dance documentary as:  
a beautiful and inspirational feature-length documentary about the passionate drive to be an artist and the special nature of virtuosity in dance.  Created by award-winning choreographer and filmmaker Sue Healey with music by New Zealand jazz legend Mike Nock, “Virtuosi” reveals intimate and astounding portraits of eight New Zealand dance artists who left their homeland to pursue careers around the world.

If you are a New Zealander, if you are an artist, if you are a dancer, if you love dance, if you live in New Zealand but call another country home, if you love stories told by people about people and what they can't live without - see this doco. 

Basically this is a review where the reviewer asks all audiences to please support this project…it pertains to you. 

To you. 

To you is not a complete sentence, but it encapsulates what the viewer takes with them as they pick up their bags after this screening, walk to the bus or the bike or the car, and text their Mother or husband with the message “I'll be home soon.” 

As clichéd as this text message may be, it's true.  You will find yourself texting your loved ones: B home soon xo.  Alternately you will text them: I miss you.

For Sue Healey (big applause) and team, this documentary marks the beginning of more on this subject.  Sue creates works in threes. Sue has begun creating variations on this theme and envisages multiple iterations of this work.  She has enough material for a professional lifetime here in this documentary.   She has found a range of mediums to exhibit and interrogate this content.  Sue left New Zealand as a teenager.  She lives and works in Australia.  She is successful.

Experientially, it was an absolute pleasure to view this documentary here in Auckland with an audience of dance supporters, academics, performers, reviewers and family members!  Thank you Sue - We love this film!!

Virtuosi is overwhelmingly, structurally satisfying.  The multiple subjects and their intimate narratives weave through the questions posed around the curiosity Sue has for how location determines who you are.  One of the initial and ongoing themes asks: Why dance? 

Sarah-Jayne Howard (stunning as she is) opens the film dancing, as she responds to why she dances.  She paints an intimate portrait of her love of the art she has chosen and the concept of success appears early in her story.  She states that she feels successful because she chose the path that was right for her.  Like Sue and the 7 other subjects, she is successful.

The chosen path, to leave New Zealand in order to pursue a career in dance, is a path that these subjects share.  As articulated by the eight beautiful Kiwi dancers in this documentary; many dancers leave New Zealand for a career overseas. Eight cine-portraits paint images of beautiful dancers in their homes or cityscapes overseas, and/or in locations back in New Zealand.   The dancer diaspora is not particular to New Zealand.  It does not only represent leaving a small Pacific country, or leaving because there is no work here.  These artists left to pursue their own cutting edge - or to accept an opportunity via invitation, to lead the scene they enter, overseas.   They took the opportunity that was presented, because they are really, really, REALLY good at what they do!

Another theme of taking kinesthetic, embodied intelligence to a location overseas, reminds the viewer of the vulnerability and strength the body endures.  It is the artists' suitcase, and it is what they have to offer.  Voices reveal that the New Zealand body is a powerful, warm, naïve and giving body - and that the food, the geography and lifestyle archetypically Kiwi, contributes to strong thighs and rooted lower limbs.  The Kiwiana of the body in this doco is articulated not only in dance archival images, moving images and interview footage, but in the articulate narratives, poetic and honest, as a soundtrack.

Sound plays a dominant role in these portraits.  Sue was fortunate to work with New Zealand legend, composer Mike Nock in this sound and image partnering.  The diverse sound score excites and accompanies the 8 voices, their moving images and our increased attraction to who and why they are, and how we hear them.

The cinematography must be mentioned as being repeatedly breathtaking.  Of course the subject matter is attractive in itself; beautiful movers in nature or in funky studio apartments.  The images chase and pause from edit to edit, capturing a deeper layer in each of the portraits, giving eyes and feet and bellies attention amidst flowing water or looming towers.  The high contrast images show quirky, funny, epic people, like rooftops and water and rocks, with colours and textures presenting another side to their stories.  We want to keep eating up what we see and hear. 

In experiencing this doco, you will fall in love, you will shed a tear, you will see endless beautiful images of people you know.  You will simultaneously travel and stay home.  You will consider what home means.  To you.

This work gives due respect to the working dancer, the persistent dancer that goes where they are called in order to satisfy their need to dance.  So few stories are told of dancers as strong, resilient and persistent artists.  This story paints them so, and also shows them as beautiful in their struggles with location and the call to home.  The nostalgic conventions in this film allow any audience member either from New Zealand or elsewhere, to align and see these stories as their own.  Dance is the medium.

Many people move TO New Zealand.  I moved here from Canada a decade ago.  I love how small it is, how beautiful it is, how inviting and peaceful it list goes on.  New Zealand images, colours like nowhere else in the world, sounds of animals and nature we take for granted, and strong, national characteristics are highlighted in this film.  Sue herself calls it a very Kiwi film.  I agree. 

Virtuosi is being received with enthusiasm internationally.  It is our story, regardless of place of birth. It is delicate, powerful, beautifully shot and edited and it effectively shows off the extraordinary talents of these eight New Zealanders.


If you have not yet attended a screening, you must, Thursday 21st or Friday 22nd at 6:30, Q Loft in Queen Street.  I would go again, but I have chosen to hear a voice from Canada, Neil Young live at the Vector Arena tonight …cause when I hear him, he takes me home.     

For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.

See also reviews by:
 Raewyn Whyte (NZ Herald);
 Virginia Kennard