Photo credit: Raymond Sagapolutele
Last night I went to the opening night of Wild Dogs Under My Skirt (a Silo Theatre production) after a collision of a day (no not trucks and cars like last year) and was feeling like a wet dish rag. I had a lively poetry conversation with Vana Manasiadis as I ate tasty falafels in the Q theatre café before the show. And that felt good. My Wild Heart page proofs were back home looking amazing but demanding every inch of me for the next ten days. I was wondering where my next foot would go.
I am sitting in the dark when five women appear on stage; they sing and move and welcome us into the space and connections of their performance: the full cast (one is unable to make this season) is Vaimaila Urale Baker, Saane Green, Petmal Lam, Stacey Leilua, Joanna Mika-Toloa, Anapela Polata‘ivao. I have goosebumps. Their voices instil the room with exquisite musical harmony – a singing threshold that transports us into an hour or so of discomfort, pain, warmth and much laughter.
Tusiata Avia’s debut poetry collection, Wild Dogs Under My Skirt, has been with poetry fans since 2004; it has inspired young Pasifika women to tell their stories in poetry vessels, it has inspired poets to perform from the heart, to allow darkness and risk and edge. It has inspired us to write poetry that makes us laugh and weep at the same time. It is an Aotearoa classic and it is much loved.
The Wild Dog performance, steered by experienced and much lauded director and actor, Anapela Polata‘ivao, is simply astonishing. You are taken into the pages of a poetry book and then carried beyond, you are whisked on the lyrical echoes and gestures of a Tusiata performance and then born into the theatrical space and the wider world.
There are gods and wild dogs and the talk of sex and aunty’s advice on how to be a good Samoan girl and corned beef and chop suey and the tied up hair and the image of Jesus and always Jesus and the size of feet and a personalised alphabet and still Jesus and the palangi man and the dancing women and the dusky maidens and more sex and the women – always the women, how I love these women – poking fun and being deadly serious and strong.
We are taken into the raw and exposed and cutting and loved and beloved lives of Samoan women and for many in the audience it is a searing hit of recognition.
For me in white skin – my dish rag skin – it is a hit of pain – the influenza, the intolerable shootings, the shoddy treatment by NZ, the shame and but and and
it is also an utter uplift through the joy of words –it’s what Tusiata and the actors can do with words that transform your skin and heart and gut because they dance and they bite and they etch indelible stories on your legs and arms as though we are poetry tattooed.
Six chairs, props to a table or a church or a desiring man, become part of the poetry – for there is always poetry, intricate and moving. The live drums enlivening (Leki Jackson-Bourke), the soundtrack enlivening, the dancing bodies prompting rollercoaster emotions.
And the final piece, the fierce wild dog ending, the women growling teeth bared, cutting opening the issues that have shaped them, the love and the violence and place to call home, offering the bloodied past, the familiar home ground, the love that binds, the love that binds women, the love that stands proud on this stage and sings out. Fiercely.
The song ‘Telesa’, composed and sung by Aivale Cole, is the end note – haunting, reverberating. Our bodies become echo chambers for every word, every gesture we have just absorbed. I feel like I have had a blood transfusion. I feel like I can take the next step.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
You wan da Ode?
OK, I give you
Here my Ode to da life
Ia, da life is happy an perfek
Everybodys smile, everybodys laugh
Lot of food like Pisupo, Macdonal an Sapasui
Even da dog dey fat
You hear me, suga? Even da dog!
from ‘Ode to da life’
Wild Dogs under My Skirt Victoria University Press, 2004
Photo credit: Raymond Sagapolutele