Where The Wild Dogs Are

Actor Anapela Polavatio photographed for Canvas. 22 July 2019 Photograph by Greg Bowker/New Zealand Herald

“Alofa go for da walk…walking walking Alofa find alofa everywhere in da bush in da tree under da bush under da tree in da dark alofa…plenty alofa in da dark”.

Excerpt from ‘Alofa’ from Wild Dogs Under My Skirt.

Wild Dogs Under My Skirt is the title of both a book of poems and a theatre piece. Samoan-New Zealander Tusiata Avia described them once as a pair of ‘sisters’. She wrote them alongside each other, with some of the poems belonging to the page, some to the stage, and some on both.

Both incarnations ofWild Dogs Under My Skirt depict a very personal view of two very different cultures; Fa’asāmoa and the ‘Kiwi way’ and the ways in which these two cultures often collide for the Pacific diaspora of Aotearoa, particularly the women.

From 2002–2008 Avia staged Wild Dogs Under My Skirt as a one-woman theatre show, which she performed to acclaim around the world.  Upon returning to New Zealand she reconnected with her cousin, playwright Victor Rodger; a meeting which saw the single woman show reimagined as an ensemble piece under the direction of Anapela Polata’ivao and a cast of six powerful Pasifika actresses.

Leading up to her arrival in Gisborne this week I spoke with Anapela Polata’ivao who has been lauded for both her direction and acting roles in Wild Dogs Under My Skirt.  Of this dual role, she stressed the importance of finding the ease of it all ‘there’s big stuff going on in there you know, so it’s important to know ‘What time is lunch’, where are the shops, and who’s driving there..’ She laughs.

And while humour is often a hallmark of the Pacific voice, Wild Dogs Under My Skirt does not rely on such a crutch to navigate difficult topics such as domestic violence and sexual assault.  Instead the poetry, the way in which each of the actresses bring their “own interpretations, the sounds of their own voices, their own physicality to their roles arriving in their own being, walking with it” and the simple power of raw honesty come together to normalise the experiences of Sāmoan womanhood.

Wild Dogs Under My Skirt is often described as an unapologetic lens into the Sāmoan woman.  “Sāmoan women are just are sensual, without having to over-exude it, and especially in the way that Tusiata has written them. Some people can find it confronting and uncomfortable” says Anapela.

“Sometimes, we hold back from revealing our true snapping tongues – my upbringing has a lot to do with that too. I was brought up to censor, be subservient. But underneath, I think there’s an almost tangible fe’ai-ness (fierce/violent) at the core of an Island woman.”

Anapela spoke of the array of emotions, from anger to celebration that they the cast members witness in their audiences as the show draws to its close “there’s a real fierceness in the piece; some people want to come and haka with us or rip their clothes off and come up on stage with us.  Sometimes there is just silence.  People will say ‘I want to say everything and nothing at the same time.’”

All of these offerings from Te Tairawhiti Arts Festival invite us to look through windows into other peoples’ worlds, opening doors for us to understand different perspectives through insights into the lived experiences of others.   I’m looking forward to seeing what my own response will be to Wild Dogs Under My Skirt. Whatever it is, and whether I am able to articulate it or not, I am looking forward to being moved. That, I suspect, will be a given.

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