Fine Line

Sue Healey’s ‘Fine Line’: HSC Dance Appreciation Resource


An excerpt from the May/Jun 2015 issue

For the first time in our history, a local female artist has been placed on the list of prescribed texts for the NSW HSC Dance Course. For those of you studying Dance at school, you will no doubt come across Sue Healey and her work Fine Line at some point. Originally from New Zealand, Sue Healey has been instrumental in the development of Australian contemporary dance and dance film since the 1980’s. Sue says, “I think Australian dance is highly placed on the world stage and worthy of being studied by the next generation of dancers. Australian work needs to be on the curriculum every year! It is critical for the development of the artform and audiences.”

What are the defining characteristics of Sue Healey’s work? Her focus on education and the linking of research and dance- what she calls “art as research”- is unique. This context and approach sets her apart and makes her work recognisable. “Early in my career I realised that the teaching and communicating of ideas about dance were as vital as the doing of it. I believe that to be an effective choreographer you have to be able to teach – to share your ideas, not only to other dancers but also to audiences, who might not know much about dance. I think audiences are often perplexed by contemporary dance and need clues as to how to see it.” About 10 years ago, Sue began to make works in a series format (as many visual artists do). This context involves creating a collection of pieces (both in film and live performance) based on an overarching concept. This became a very successful framework, enabling deep research into an area and a building of momentum and visibility. Sue’s work, Fine Line, is just one example of this structure that makes her work distinct.

What concepts/intents does Sue Healey deal with? “Dance has unique powers – unique ways of telling stories – but it is not a literal form”. Rather than trying to make a work about large, lofty concepts that might be better dealt with in literature or theatre, Sue looks at action and movement and finds how the body moves within that and solves problems through it. “I like to make work about things that move (movement is life, without it there is only death). Dance deals with space and time and energy – these are the palettes of possibilities that I pursue. I have spent the last 12 years creating a series of works under these frameworks…infinite possibilities, I haven’t even scratched the surface of what I want to create!” In many ways, using film allows choreographers to be released from the strictures of time and space and using dance gives filmmakers an opportunity to highlight movement and the intended perspective more closely.

The purpose of Fine Line was to find a culmination of the NICHE series, distilling much of the work that she had done over the previous 3 years into a 9-minute film. That is why students, to truly understand this film, need to look at the other 4 works in the series to see the connections and layers of research that went before it. “My overarching aim was to create an awareness of space and how we relate to each other in space. The simplicity of the design, constructed of white lines in an empty black space, creates the space for imaginings to occur. The lines, angles, corners, planes and rooms become spaces for the dance to exist.” Sue is deeply curious about creativity and the fact that we as humans have created Art since the beginning of time. Given that we are now immersed in an age of technology, she wonders where dance and the moving body will lead us?

This NICHE series delves into the relationships we have with space and the fine lines we cross and travel for survival. The research aspect, therefore, pivots upon the idea of multi-dimensional space, the articulation of the body and the imagination through various performance landscapes. The two key spatial concepts that underpin the series are: The idea of a niche, which in a biological sense is an environment that provides the appropriate conditions for a species to survive and thrive and also implies a small, enclosed, intimate space. “The driving force was a search to place the ‘right’ work in the ‘right’ space.” Secondly, The metaphor of a fine line, a divider of extremes upon which our lives often balance and how as humans we shift between binary forces (such as connection vs. isolation, order vs. chaos, fragility vs. strength).

On one level, the Fine Line film is not that different to its other sister elements in the NICHE series, as the material and sensibility of the whole work is the same. But, the live work is much longer and much more in depth, so is a fuller experience. In addition, Fine Line brings up interesting issues between film and live performance and how the mediums vary. Music was also drawn from other works in the series and then created for the final edit.

How does Sue Healey want you to interpret her work?
“How a dance is perceived is a precarious and fragile reality – I am not sure the artist ever has control on how it is understood and I don’t really sweat on this. Although I work very hard to create an understandable logic and provide markers so that the work can be interpreted in the way that I feel it, so that it can be understood in visual, kinesthetic and emotional terms. I am very happy for it to be interpreted in whatever way the individual sees fit. I would not want the work to be looked at in a superficial way – one has to delve beneath the surface. It is a subtle work, so it needs to be unraveled in a careful manner.”

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