Born To Dance: Film Review
Cast: Kherington Payne, John Tui, Stan Walker, Tia Taharoa Maipi
Director: Tammy Davis
The dance film genre is not one that's blessed with story or emotion.
Its simple MO is to showcase a multitude of moves, a plethora of dancers and to inject an occasional bit of tension into the will-the-dancer-make-good-on-his-or-her-dream-of-making-it-big tropes.
So, Australasia's first dance movie comes blasting out of the gate not really willing to shake up those conventions but wanting to showcase what Kiwis can do on the screen.
Hip hop champion Tia Taharoa Maipi stars as Tu, a teen who's out of school but with little prospects - his best mate is off to uni and his future could be the NZ Army, if his dad has his way. By day, Tu's working at a recycling warehouse with bro Benjy (Stan Walker) - but he doesn't want Benjy's future which includes low level drug dealing.
When Tu submits a dance video to world champs K-Krew, he gets called to auditions - and begins to realise that his dream of being a world - class dancer could be reality. Throw in a frisson of sexual tension with K-Krew Dancer Sasha (Payne, of Fame) and things are looking up for Tu.... potentially.
As mentioned, Born To Dance is your stereotypical dance flick - there's conflict aplenty and a dancer whose desires are conflicted and torn between his own crew, his dad's ambitions for him and his own coming-of-age journey. It's even got a Fame costs and here's where you start paying speech courtesy of the K-Krew leader.
But what it also has, to make up for some of the acting quality on the screen (potentially, some weren't hired for their emoting range) is a warm earnestness that's both endearing and exciting.
The main star of the piece though remains largely off the screen (save for one fierce cameo performance) - and that is Parris Goebel's terrific choreography that really does enliven the dance sequences. Wisely shorn of the 3D gimmick that's all too common-place these days (largely due to funding one suspects), it's upto Goebels' imagination to set the dance pieces in motion as well as first time director Tammy Davis and Dance unit director Chris Graham to make them reality. And Davis and Graham make a good fist of it too, with sweeping camera shots taking you right into the centre of the action - it's here that the energy of the Step Up films is easily eclipsed, certainly in the final 20 minutes of all-dancing action.
Sure, the message of self-belief, empowerment and following your dreams, as well as a dose of reality for evil-doers is nothing new in the genre but it's commendable for young New Zealanders to get exposure to such idioms; and granted, bar one twist, you can see where it's all going, but Born To Dance certainly punches well above its weight.
Admittedly with its North and South Auckland divide storyline and one misplaced and misjudged story thread over a gay dancer may see it struggle to find a truly international audience (which is a shame given how universal its themes are), but Born To Dance is a Step Up for New Zealand dance films.