Mangere Arts Centre, Auckland

26/09/2016 - 01/10/2016

Hannah Playhouse, Cnr Courtenay Place & Cambridge Terrace, Wellington

07/03/2018 - 11/03/2018

Lake Wanaka Centre, Wanaka

03/04/2019 - 03/04/2019

Turner Centre, 43 Cobham Road, Kerikeri

07/04/2019 - 07/04/2019

Theatre Royal, 78 Rutherford Street, Nelson

18/10/2018 - 19/10/2018

Haeata Community Campus, Christchurch

25/07/2019 - 25/07/2019

The Piano, 156 Armagh Street, Christchurch

26/07/2019 - 27/07/2019

Lawson Field Theatre, Gisborne

11/10/2019 - 11/10/2019

Soho Playhouse, 15 Vandam St., NYC, USA

13/01/2020 - 18/01/2020

Meteor Theatre, 1 Victoria Street, Hamilton

22/02/2020 - 23/02/2020

New Zealand Festival of the Arts 2018

Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival 2019

Christchurch Arts Festival 2019

Southern Lakes Festival of Colour

Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival 2020

UPSURGE Bay of Islands Festival 2019

Nelson Arts Festival 2018

Production Details

After their critically acclaimed productions of CLUB PARADISO by Victor Rodger and PUZZY by Kiana Rivera feat. Victor Rodger, FCC are proud to present WILD DOGS UNDER MY SKIRT by Tusiata Avia.

Tusiata Avia’s vivacious first collection of poetry, Wild Dogs Under My Skirt charts her experience with the sometimes painful intersection of New Zealand and Samoan cultures in her life. Alive with the energy and rhythm of raw and lyrical performance poetry and oral traditions, Wild Dogs Under My Skirt will challenge your perceptions of culture, life, and love. 

Avia gained critical acclaim when she toured her landmark solo play around the world from 2002 to 2008 and the subsequent poetry collection of the same name was released to similar success in 2004.

Last year, her cousin, the award-winning playwright, Victor Rodger (BLACK FAGGOT, MY NAME IS GARY COOPER), decided to stage Wild Dogs Under My Skirt with six actresses as part of his regular FCC play readings in Auckland. 

Under the direction of Arts Laureate Anapela Polataivao, Wild Dogs Under My Skirt was hands down the most popular FCC play reading of 2016.

Now, FCC are excited to bring Wild Dogs Under My Skirt to life once again under Polataivao’s direction, featuring an exciting cast of Pacifica talent including Stacey Leilua (THE FACTORY), Nora Aati (MY NAME IS GARY COOPER) , Malia ‘Ahovelo (PUZZY), Luse Tuipolto (PIGS ON THE RUN) , Joanna Mika-Toloa (GIRL ON A CORNER) and newcomer Grace Vanilau.

Wild Dogs Under My Skirt also marks the first time that Rodger and Avia have worked together on a professional project. 

“Avia confounds expectations with a light-hearted, ironic tone that is consistently entertaining” – Paul Simei Barton, The NZ Herald 

Mangere Arts Centre – Nga Tohu o Uenuku,
Corner Orly Avenue & Bader Drive, Mangere, Auckland
September 26-October 2016 1, 8pm
Matinee: Saturday October 1st, 2pm
Tickets are available at www.eventfinda.co.nz 
Waged: $25 | Unwaged: $20
Groups of six or more: $18
Under 16 years: $15

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“One of the best pieces of theatre I’ve seen in many years” ALBERT WENDT

New Zealand Festival 2018 

Hannah Playhouse  
Wednesday 07 Mar – Sunday 11 Mar 2018
Sat 10 Mar, 1.30pm
Adult A: $49.00
Adult B: $39.00
Pricing excludes service fee More about ticket categories
Post-show Artist Talk: Sat 10 Mar, Hannah Playhouse auditorium
The show on Saturday 10 March at 1.30pm will be NZSL interpreted. To book tickets for the NZSL interpretation, call the Festival on 04 912 0411 or email ticketing@festival.co.nz.   

Co-produced by the New Zealand Festival and FCC  

Nelson Arts Festival 2018
Heart-stopping and unmissable theatre. 
“One of the best pieces of theatre I’ve seen in many years.” ALBERT WENDT  
“Make time to catch the fantastic Wild Dogs Under My Skirt.” DOMINION POST  
“I highly recommend this. An amazing night.” LYNN FREEMAN, RNZ NATIONAL  
BEST DIRECTOR – Anapela Polata’ivao, 2016 Auckland Theatre Awards 
Thu 18 & Fri 19 Oct 2018
FULL $48 | UNDER 19 $25 
SENIOR $43 | GROUP OF 6+ $43pp 
Plus TicketDirect Service Fee 
Book Now!  

Lake Wanaka Centre
Wednesday 3 April 2019
Details & BOOK 

The Turner Centre, Kerikeri
Sunday 7 April 2019 
7.30 pm
EARLY $38 – FULL $42
plus service fee
Suitable for ages 13+
Strong language and references to violence

Christchurch Arts Festival 2019
Haeata Community Campus

Thursday 25 July7:00pm
Buy Tickets
The Piano
Friday 26 July 
Buy Tickets 
Saturday 27 July
Buy Tickets
Concession $45 –
Full $50 –

Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival 2019
Friday 11th Oct – 7:00pm
General Admission$25, Concession $20

Soho Playhouse
15 Vandam St, New York, NY 10013
3-18 January 2020
(Monday 13 Jan, 4.30pm)

Fresh from their historical New York season at the SoHo Theatre.

Meteor Theatre
Sat 22 Feb & Sun 23 Feb 2020,
$45 General Admission
$40 Concession

Performed by Anapela Polata’ivao, Stacey Leilua, Joanna Mika-Toloa, Petmal Lam, Saane Green, Vaimaila Urale Baker. 
Drumming performed by Leki Jackson-Bourke. 

Written by Tusiata Avia.
Directed by Anapela Polata’ivao.
Choreographed by Mario Faumui.
Lighting Design by Rachel Marlo.
Production Management by Abby Clearwater.
Produced by Victor Rodger and FCC.

Theatre , Performance Poetry ,

1 hr 15 mins

A glorious and passionate production

Review by Gail Pittaway 23rd Feb 2020

As an absolute epitome of the phrase ‘It’s got legs’, back in 2004 I reviewed a new collection of poetry by Tusiata Avia called ‘Wild dogs under my skirt’, which was then turned into a solo performance by the author and toured nationally and internationally. Since then it has been created into a six woman show, and now returns to Aotearoa after a season in New York, to tour and grace the arts festivals around the country. That’s a lot of leg, which is also weirdly appropriate for a show about Samoan women claiming the traditionally male leg tattoo under their skirts.

Hamilton Garden’s Arts Festival has been lucky to catch these stunning performers as they dance, chant, stomp and hiss their way back into our blood steam. Still fully based on Avia’s poems, the six women assume the characters of the voices she created, debunking the complicit dusky maiden Pacific stereotype as they rise.

The show opens with a beautiful welcome song from the tightly choreographed ensemble and leads quickly into a machete-waving homage to the altar of corned beef that sits centre stage, from a compelling Stacey Leilua. The set at first holds a semi-circle of six carved high-backed chairs and these become useful items to serve as beds, hiding places for a belting from dad, teacher’s chairs and dancing props, as the women weave around them and each other, to assume new roles or support individual speakers.

There is no single story but Avia’s phonetic poems read between the lines of two cultures; the complexities of girls growing up in both Samoa and New Zealand and the darker side of both cultures for grown women too. Many poems in the script touch on violence, sexual abuse, and hypocrisy and all are given powerful energy in performance, with shifting focus, movement and voice, supported by an off-stage drummer and some deftly placed lighting effects.

Director Anapela Polata’ivao also performs as one of the six, at first performing ukulele and backing then letting her hair down in an invocation of a scary guardian spirit, and calling her cast into the final, totally riveting chorus of the production’s eponymous poem.

Siaane Green is captivating as the ten-year-old girl who tells of her bossy Aunty Fale and her reviled dog Bingo, or the expectation of getting the belt from her father. Instead of marmite sandwiches, she recalls, she has a turkey tail and taro for her school lunch. Her family doesn’t have a tin opener or a lawn mower, they have a machete.

Joanna Mika-Toloa tells a gossipy story of the love life and adolescence of a young Samoan girl from her village, all charm and smiles while the teeth are nonetheless sharp, then Vaimaila Carolyn Baker demystifies any dusky maiden myth with talk of her cannibal ancestry.

Petmal Petelo’s Aunty Fale tells the submissive girls “Fings da Girls Should Know” – a list of don’ts: don’t brush your hair at night, don’t smoke the cigarettes, don’t walk alone at night, above all, “If you drink beer dat means you are da bad kirl and you are looking for da boy.” There’s comedy and charm but huge amounts of pathos as characters are revealed so brilliantly by these versatile and skillful actors.

In one potent moment there’s an interruption of sound – a voice over, giving a speech which is clearly Helen Clark’s apology to the Samoan people, followed by the sound of a toilet flushing. No further comment is needed. There’s rage and resignation but overriding energy in this glorious and passionate production. 


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Invigorating ensemble work

Review by Alison Walls 15th Jan 2020

Wild Dogs Under My Skirt, written by Tusiata Avia, directed by Anapela Polata’ivao, and performed by a strong ensemble of six women, is a play with a powerful sense of identity. The play interweaves poetic monologues in an examination and celebration of what it means to be a Samoan woman. The program notes an affinity to Ntozake Shange’s seminal For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf, and certainly the similarities are there in form and intent, but—as Shange did for Black U.S. female identity—Wild Dogs is resolutely, defiantly expressive of Samoan womanhood.

The nod to Shange is perhaps intended to give the U.S. audience at New York’s Soho Playhouse a helpful point of reference. Undeniably, many an allusion will have eluded native New Yorkers, despite the short glossary provided, but the essential human emotion behind the text and core themes prevail. One may need to be Kiwi to know why a Mallowpuff is coveted, why Jonah Lomu is a point of pride, or who the Helen is who receives such an eviscerating response to a too-little too-late apology. But internalized sexism, racism, patriarchal hypocrisy, orientalism, oppressive religiosity, the everlasting crimes of colonialism—these need no translation. There is something satisfying too (seen also in recent Black theatre here in the U.S.) in the unapologetic refusal to offer explanations to the typically dominant white, middle-class theatre audience.

The genuine ensemble work of the cast is likewise gratifying. Originally performed by Avia in 2002 as a one woman show, the expanded cast maintains the thread of a single voice at a time, passing from character to character and back again, but fleshes it out performatively with minor characters, vocal responses, song, movement, and rhythmic support provided by the rest of the cast. Atmospheric lighting and drumming provided by Leki Jackson-Bourke help lift the poetry off the page and onto the stage. (I do have a small quibble with the use of recorded sound for the final moments of the play, having till that moment maintained the integrity of absolute live performance, but I’m sure for most audience members this is not a sticking point.)

The six actors present clearly individualized, committed performances and feed the energy of the performance as a cohesive group. The music and movement add a welcome energy, especially since the highly poetic, sometimes quite abstract text encourages a certain vocal intonation that does, at times, drag. There are moments where the deliberate weight given each word could have benefitted from a messier, pacier expression. Anapela Polata’ivao, Stacey Leilua, Joanna Mika-Toloa, Petmal Lam, Saane Green, and Vaimaila Urale Baker are all, however, dynamic actors; to name one or two standouts would betray the ensemble spirit that holds up this production.

Some of the most invigorating ensemble work comes in the culminating and titular monologue. As Polata’ivao, a “paumuku” woman, mocks the disapproving and/or lusting stares as she shakes her susu, shakes her “black ass”, and longs for her thighs to be tattooed black like “wild dogs under her skirt”, the rest of the cast embody those dogs, snarling in an expression of rage, defiance, and power. The snarls give way to sobs for a moment, but the women leave the stage standing tall, sure of who they are.


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Remarkable performers bring a distinct credibility to every monologue

Review by Karen Morris-Denby 12th Oct 2019

With a machete raised above her head Stacey Leilua casts a formidable Samurai type shadow on the side wall of the Lawson Theatre.  This shadow is the precursor of the confronting performance to come. The audience is to be splintered, spliced, bruised, amused, hung drawn and quartered for the next seventy-five minutes.  

Has theatre become a soapboxing platform for grievances past and present?  It appears to me it has. On leaving the theatre I feel guilty for sleeping with the enemy and for having a reasonably okay existence as a middle-class Irish-Niuean New Zealander for the past 71 years.

Despite this, I am drawn to the symbolism of the six wicker chairs.  For me they symbolise the pre-conceived idea of Polynesia: people sitting lazily on sun soaked islands, weaving baskets or repairing fishing nets all day. 

The minimalist design elements – by Jane Hakaraia, Rachel Marlow, and the Pacific Sisters Feeonaa Wall and Ani O’Neill with Suzanne Tamaki – do not distract from the potent scripted poetry. 

Leki Jackson Bourke on a drum, emphasising some of the lyrical statements is a highlight. I would have liked to hear a solo along with the beautiful harmonising eerie choral-like voices of the performers. 

The ukuleles give a perfect resonance.  Again, I would like to have heard more of the poetry accompanied with uke. It would give light relief to the audience. Often one appears to stop breathing, when some of the extraordinary protests are being expounded.

The reference to ‘Dusky Maidens’ finds me nodding in agreement. I too am a ‘Dusky Maiden’ and have racist stories to tell in this vain.

It is understandable that Director Anapela Polata’vao received ‘Best Director’ in 2016 Auckland Theatre Awards. The subtle placing and choreography of the six Performers, although not unique, is intrinsic to the vitality of the performance.

Stacey Leilua, ILisaane Green, Vaimaila Urale Baker, Petmal Lam, Joanna Atoa Taloa, Anapela Polata’ivao are remarkable performers.  They all hold true to their individual roles, giving a distinct credibility to every monologue.

The list of ‘don’ts’ are perhaps recognised by many women as they transform into Teenagers. The memory can be jogged to the moment of a mother’s lecture of the forbidden in life. 

The denouement of the performance is, for me, long laborious and loud. Forgive me but I miss the point. Except of course the wild dogs. Having said that, don’t forget, I am a 71-year-old woman born into a changing world picking up the pieces after WWII. Now I am being accused of all the current earth’s ills.

As an audience in the 21st Century, can we have the expectation to go to theatre and be entertained? I don’t think so. We are no longer observers of the issues being presented on every stage. Tuia 250 programmes have been riding alongside the Tairawhiti Arts Festival. Once again, we are made aware of the injustices throughout the Pacific.  I like to think there are many sides to a story.  But for me, I am being presented a myopic view of the world.

Wild Dogs Under My Skirt receives a standing ovation. Well done. I always like to commend all writers and performers who are out there perfecting their craft. All women need a voice, even when women like me appear to take a seemingly opposing stand.


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An irrepressibly fierce joy in selfhood and sensuality

Review by Lindsay Clark 26th Jul 2019

This presentation of Tusiata Avia’s acclaimed performance piece at Haeata has special significance, not only for its compellingly honest and mesmerising account of Samoan womanhood but because the campus is a regenerated Aranui High School, where the fledgling poet, performer and writer grew her own cultural understandings. The production moves on to The Piano for its main season as part of the Christchurch Arts Festival, but a warmly positive audience confirms that this coming home to Aranui is hugely appreciated, as do the spontaneous explanations in the Question and Answer session after the show.

Structured from the 2004 poetry collection of the same title, the play inhabits rich territory somewhere between performance poetry and physical ensemble theatre. All five actors/ dancers are on stage for the duration of the piece, controlling its rhythm  effortlessly, sometimes with song, sometimes with group movement as an expressive layer enhancing the poem of the moment.

Always the energy and focus of the ensemble engage us with a cultural world we mostly meet all too rarely. ‘Channelling the energy’ is the term used in the Q and A and the pulse of the poetry never flags. 

For a start, on stage there are just five actors, their chairs and a neat stack of Samoa’s favourite tinned corned beef. That gives rise to a cheerful analysis of its qualities. It is the opening invitation to enjoy humour and a wry celebration of the sensual pleasures of life even when they are not approved of by the Church or the Aunty or the violent father/ uncle. 

Each poem translates into story and character, or an aspect of female experience in Samoa or Niu Sila, so that the overall effect is one of myriad splashes of colour on a wide canvas as the five actors paint the Samoan world. Often, the perspective is that of a young girl holding her situation close in the face of caution and rebuke. ‘O le pi tautau’, an alphabet of experience and reflection covers the ground lightly. Other poems, such as ‘Three reasons for sleeping with a white man’ and ‘Pa’u-stina’ (I am da devil pa’umuku kirl’), or the poignant ‘Alofa’, share deeply lived experience and observation.

As naturally as breathing, the sequence is revealed, many moments bringing the tingle of fresh insight into a thoroughly experienced world from a perspective most of us have never known. Occasionally political comment takes the stage too, whether reference to the New Zealand governmental attitude or a note about ‘forgiveness’ to former prime minister, Helen Clark, but the Samoan way is, we are told, to treat pain with laughter and though the humour is sometimes grim, it is always there. 

A recurring expression is an irrepressibly fierce joy in selfhood and sensuality, which for me characterises the whole. The final climactic piece, which gives title to the play, echoes this idea with almost frightening intensity, leaving no doubt that however artful the imprint of society and culture, a wild and free female creature – more, much more than a ‘dusky maiden’ – is just beneath the surface.  

Watch out New York: the next stop for this remarkable team.


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Ensemble work both beautiful and formidable

Review by Alan Scott 08th Apr 2019

The production of Wild Dogs Under My Skirt is an outstanding work in which Tusiata Avia’s poems are given a transcendent theatrical interpretation that does more than merely raise them from the page. For it endows them with such force that those listening can only sit back and wonder at the power of language to depict and construe the world we live in.

But Wild Dogs Under My Skirt is a specific world: that of Samoan women. It looks at their lives in the villages back home and their new lives after the diaspora to New Zealand and beyond. From Apia to Auckland, we hear of their experiences with friends and families and strangers.

From the love for pisupo (corned beef) to making love with palangi men, from a Christian aunty’s wagging finger to a father’s brutal hand, from unpicking a culture to honouring it, the life of Pasifika women is detailed in frequently hard-hitting, explicit and raw images which open your eyes and at the same time feel like a smack in your eye.

There is a wealth of humour in the play, though it often feels like the gallows kind. The singing and dancing and movement around the stage add another dimension to the audience’s experience and the actors themselves portray characters so vividly strong that, while you are sometimes overwhelmed by the stories they tell, you are simultaneously uplifted.

Wild Dogs Under My Skirt, as a play, is an exploration of Samoan women’s lives. As a production, it is something else. For it is, forgive the word, a masterclass in how to recite poetry. You can only admire Anapela Polataivao’s direction here in helping the actors the with the phrasing and timing of lines, the use of pausing, the emphasis and colouring of specific words, the variations in pitch and volume, the attention to rhythm and the whole orchestration of a poem from its beginning to its end. The recitation of Avia’s poems is pure music to the ears.

At the same time, Wild Dogs Under My Skirt is celebration of the art form called theatre. It’s a classic example of how you take a script and reimagine and recreate it as a living world and how, within that living world, you take a line and invest it with significance, and how you take a word and conjure up its meaning.

The six actors who perform the piece, while all individually strong, work together both beautifully and formidably as an ensemble. No matter how good the poems or the direction, in the end it is all down to them and they certainly do the business. The last view of them as they inhabit the skin of wild dogs, snarling and menacing, growling and baring their teeth and spitting out the words, speaks volumes about their work.

In truth, they are more than wild dogs under the skirt. On the night, in the universe of acting and theatre, they are top dogs.


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Challenging celebration of a rich, bold Pacific culture

Review by Tess Redgrave 04th Apr 2019

“Immm yum … this doesn’t have vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium.  It’s saturated fat is 27%, cholestrol 27%, sodium 27%.”

So begins Wild Dogs Under My Skirt as a woman extols the wonders of the Pacific’s ubiquitous corned beef. “It resembles the taste of human flesh,” she challenges.

First published as Tusiata Avia’s poetry collection in 2004, Wild Dogs Under My Skirt is now a stunning ensemble theatre piece under the direction of Anapela Polata’ivao. The pairing of Avia’s unapologetic voice and Polata’ivao’s vision is a powerful match. The poems stem from Avia’s personal experiences and challenges of being a Samoan woman.

In this perfromance they unfold through six strong characters – Lorelei, Tusiata, Teine Sa, Malia, Aunty Fale and Aunty Avai – each taking turns to  give us a gritty and at times uncomfortably visceral view of living as Pacific women in the 2lst century.

As the performance progresses, the collective and universal stories of Samoan women weave into a rich, multi-voiced tapestry. There’s the Christian Aunty enforcer casting judgment on those who cannot live by her strict, self-shaming rules. In contrast, another character is ashamed at her size 11 feet, indignant at being told “You’ve got a good grip on the earth, dear.” “I have been trying to stiletto my way off the earth ever since,” she quips.

Stories of confusion and alienation abound as characters confront New Zealand culture. A piece of taro and a turkey tail in one girl’s lunchbox just doesn’t match up to her schoolmate’s marmite sandwiches.

Themes of family violence are touched on. “Our father made us kneel before a hiding,” says one, while another relates ‘making alofa’ in the Seaside Inn with a palagi man, only to later endure being shamed in her village.

There are recitations of rules for girls in the village and three reasons for sleeping with a palangi man.

The influenza pandemic of November 1918 that spread like wildfire (killing as much as 22% of the local population) after a New Zealand ship Talune docked at Apia, is referenced, as is New Zealand PM Helen Clark’s official apology many years later.

The play then builds to a stunning finale as the actresses relish performing the play’s climatic poem Wild Dogs Under My Skirt. We, the audience, sit on the edge of our seats, our hearts beating as a pack of wild dogs hiss and growl at us from the stage – not backing off!  “I want to frighten my lovers,” one shouts. “Let them sit across from me and whistle through their teeth.”

It is wonderful to see this play in Wanaka challenging a mainly palangi audience, myself included, to view a fresh, at times raw and uncomfortable, picture of what it is like to be a Samoan woman. To understand and celebrate that these characters have inherited a rich, bold Pacific culture and yet have had to learn, live, adapt and love in another one too. 


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Moving, educational, shocking yet entertaining

Review by Trish Sullivan 19th Oct 2018

Six chairs, each in its own pool of light, are six individual stations for our characters; the intensity is set before anyone is even on stage.

Tusiata Avia’s poems are brought to life here tonight. But it’s definitely not just sweet tales of village gossip or the classic comedic aunty. It’s raw. It’s dark. It is real. 

The portrayal of Avia’s characters by these six passionate Pasefika actresses is truly emotional. They illustrate some tough realities for Samoan women in New Zealand, bound by the intrinsic values and expectations of home.  It’s the stuff you don’t normally see. It’s the behind-the-scenes harsh truths of the double standards of status versus culture for Samoan women.

The theatrical disclosure of these women’s stories and lives is not for pity. As Avia says in her programme notes, it is speaking a “universal language”.  One we all know, but don’t talk about enough. 

My absolute favourite element of this entire performance is the way the women move around the stage. From their graceful barefoot steps to the movement of the gorgeous fabrics of their dresses, I am totally captivated. Beautifully coordinated shifts between scenes and the synchronised movements of interjected support to each story, are so slick that they are almost poetry themselves.

I am moved, educated, shocked yet entertained by this show.  I laugh and nod my way through things I recognise from time I spent in Samoa last year. I even remember some words of Samoan. But I am missing moments of narrative where both Samoan and English are intertwined. It is done so very cleverly but just a little too fast for my ear. Certainly I would like to be in a more intimate setting with these characters. To be closer to them, their passions and to the whole sensory experience would be a true joy. 

A pleasure to have experienced, I look forward to further collaborations from this director and writer. 


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A contradiction, a surprise, a slap in the face and twinkle of the eye ...

Review by Maraea Rakuraku 09th Mar 2018

Having six polynesian women strutting, sassing, riding, laughing, breathing, dancing their stuff for over an hour where they are the good, the evil,the maligned, the survivor, the confessor, the confessed, the witness (especially the witness) and using the words of poet, Tusiata Avia to do so, makes, Wild Dogs Under My Skirt a thoroughly enjoyable, educative experience.

By educative I mean schooled. This is a schooling of Samoan/Pasific politics, of wāhine Samoan experience and of a NZ born Samoan woman returning home to Samoa, noting it all. More importantly, it is about what it is to stand proudly in your culture, have an opinion about it, voice it and still be standing after.  

Wild Dogs Under My Skirt remains one of my favourite poetry collections and it’s why I wanted to review it. However, I can’t help but think I may have denied a Samoan/ Pacific reviewer the chance to review this work. Because as woke as I am, I’m not this. Saying that though, there is a recognition because these narratives echo wahine Māori experience, the weight of expectation.

The desire to be free from the demands of the collective while desiring it, as equally. The want to be free while trapped. The urge to be seen while also hiding. The unapologetic presentation of self and standing in it while all those around you judge whether you are enough. Even as you do the same. The self-judging that is only saved, and thankfully, by a healthy f**k you world.

Six chairs are spaced upon the stage while cans of corned beef sit upon a plinth. Six polynesian wahine enter and while five play ukulele, Stacey Leilua as Tusiata peforms Siva. It is gorgeous,vulnerable, strong. I hear some of the audience harmonising. I love when an audience is interactive. The guffaws are aplenty, throughout the performance. Raucous even. Reflecting back what we are experiencing.   

And then one by one, each woman perfoms a work supported by the others. Sometimes as bus-passengers, or as rapt/trapped kids listening to Aunty Fale’s missive (a very enigmatic Petmal Petelo Lam): ‘Fings Da Kirls Should Know’.

When Katerina Fatupaito launches into ‘Fa’afetai Mo Mea Ai’ how joyous it is to hear and see the accompanying action to the line, “…the noises we make swallowing the dead”. It makes for a sensory experience. A wild-eyed Nora Aati performing‘Alofa’ may have me throwing my head back in laughter, but it’s truth is so on point, it’s staggering.  

Saane Green, as Malia, is a force as she recites ‘O le Pi Tau tau’, leading the chorus in a telling of the Samoan alphabet, using characters and events from earlier performed pieces. Her rendition of ‘My Dog’, is endearing. The theatrics of it all, as Bingo the dog gallops through their lives, is hilarious.

Leilua’s presentation of ‘Three Reasons For Sleeping With A White Man’and ‘TheFirst Time I Went To Samoa’,while confessional, gives a more personal insight into the author’s inner life. And it gets the laughs.

Breath,movement, thigh-slapping, clapping and singing are so, so vital to this performance. Breath in particular is used beautifully, giving the words space while allowing the emotional impact to land.

While there are only six performers, they embody a cast of thousands and with that all the foiliables of life as a Polynesian, Samoan woman in all it’s dynamism. That is all the alofa’s and Bruce-lovers, church hypocrisy and handsy uncles.  But where the power lies, which makes this much more than a reading of poetry, is in it’s just being.

Yes, there are references in movement, eye flicker and verse to Dusky Maidens and they all look like versions of the pantings popularised by Gauguin and Tretchikoff-like portraits. However the difference is, you may oogah boogah me, hell I may even do it myself, but this, this right-here-in this space, is all on my own terms.

There is truth here, this is where it lives. And yes, Alofa. Lots of alofa.

Singling out one perfomer over the others seems like poor form. However, Anapela Polata’ivao, as Teline Sa, is nothing short of jaw-droppingly awe-inspiring. Her performances of ‘Pa’u-stina’and ‘Teine’ makes it impossible to look away. She is everything and everyone. She is me. She is you. She is them. But most of all she is herself and watching her morph is nothing short of the powerhouse that she is.

Seeing this mirrored by her cohorts as they recite, Wild Dogs Under My Skirt reminds me of Bruce Lee describing the impact of the punch that doesn’t connect. The power behind that action is what holds and lingers, and it’s that power that is discipline. Watching Polata’ivao come into this piece is watching the execution of controlled power and it’s discipline.   

As too her direction: sensual in its execution. The movement, the rhythm, the language.The body conduit to the words. The music dispersed throughout enhances and supports this showing.

The working of poetry into a performance like this is what I wish for all poets. Hell, it’s what I wish for myself – this third act. These poems have been plumbed, devoured and picked over, and presented unapologetically. But that wouldn’t be possible without the bones upon which it is built.

Tusiata Avia is a powerhouse. A contradiction, a surprise, a slap in the face and twinkle of the eye which is apparent in her work as channelled by these wahine. The power of all of that is what defines this performance and I have been altered by seeing that articulated, so unapologetically and dynamically. Because it just is.  And because of that, I am humbled. From one polynesian sista to another, ngāmihi. 

The presence of FCC in Wellington (while its founder Victor Rodger has been based in Wellington) has brought a vibrancy, energy and life to Pasifika theatre and we benefit from that. I benefit from it as a Māori theatre practitioner. Because while our stories are similar, they are also different and require their own space. Seeing this work is a reminder to that. We aren’t Māori Pasifika Theatre, we are Māori and Pasifika Theatre.


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Anguished misfits show their teeth

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 28th Sep 2016

Theatre company FCC’s ensemble production of Wild Dogs Under My Skirtbreathes new life into a remarkable collection of poems by Tusiata Avia which was published in 2004 and toured internationally to widespread acclaim.

The poems take us beyond the familiar picture of Pacific Island life and present a deeply personal vision of cultural collisions that have created a fragmented, damaged world teeming with vivid, life-affirming images.

Director Anapela Polataivao has woven the poems into a vibrant, choral work filled with humor [sic], dance and song. The cast of six talented women gracefully conjure up the rhythms of Samoan village life with ukuleles, song and sharply orchestrated chanting. [More


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Compelling, genuine, funny and intriguing

Review by Leigh Sykes 28th Sep 2016

Author Tusiata Avia informs us in the programme that “Wild Dogs Under My Skirt is not a play in the usual sense, it is a group of poems.” She performed the piece as a one-woman show between 2002 and 2008, and it is now brought to life with a cast of six strong women actors and a chorus of students from the Pacific Institute of Performing Arts (PIPA).

The show starts with five of the cast singing and playing the ukulele while the sixth member of the cast (Stacey Leilua) performs a graceful and traditional dance. The voices are beautiful and the dancing seems effortless and this tableau grounds us firmly in a Pacific world, before it is challenged as soon as Leilua begins to speak the first of the series of monologues that makes up the play.

This first monologue focuses on the virtues of pisupo, and, like the majority of the monologues that make up the rest of the play, this one has a strong individual voice that invites us to contemplate the situation behind the assumptions that we may make about people or places or situations. 

From here on in we are taken on a journey through the experiences of a wide variety of women in a wide variety of situations. Joanna Mika’s first monologue is engaging and funny, before she hits us between the eyes with the sadness that has been masked by the humour.

Malia ’Ahovelo plays a younger character with great presence and sincerity, while Luse Su’A Tuipulotu plays a teacher-like role with great verve and energy. She makes the audience laugh with recognition and the responses from the rest of the cast are genuine and entertaining. Nora Aati is compelling as she tells us her stories, and Grace Vanilau takes on one of the more difficult characters later in the show with great commitment.

The audience clearly recognises many of these characters and enjoys seeing them brought to life by this skilful group of actors. We are introduced to authentic voices and situations that open our eyes to aspects of life that may seem familiar on the surface, and yet have depths of which we may be unaware.

Directed by Anapela Polataivao, the staging of the play is simple – just the performers and some chairs – but the moments of chorus work are very successful in supporting and enhancing the stories being told. I particularly like the chorus of ladies in church, the passengers on a bus and the students agreeing with their teacher on the things that they should and shouldn’t do. These moments are dramatically satisfying and make the performance into a piece of theatre as well as an aural experience. I am reminded of Toa Fraser’s Bare, as these different voices tell their stories, with the simple staging and strong performances encouraging us to really listen to what each individual has to say. 

I feel that what ties these voices together is an exploration of perspectives; of how we see the world from our differing points of view. Some of these perspectives are a little harder to hear than others, and some seem to fit into the narrative arc less well than others. The section dealing with meeting a man at a mosque and the one set in a Siberian nightclub seem a little out of place, but still fit into an overall theme of cataloguing and inspecting the assumptions and presumptions that we all have about other people and other cultures.

The voices in some sections seem more bitter than in others, some sections deal with difficult matters of sex and sexuality, and some sections have issues with pacing, seeming to play out much too slowly. This means that the next cast member has to work hard to keep the energy of the piece moving along, and it feels like re-visiting and editing some of these sections could pay dividends in supporting the overall strength of the piece.

Overall, the other thing that ties the play together is the strong performances by the cast. These women are compelling, genuine, funny and intriguing. When they face us with a chorus of wild dogs at their sides in the last section of the play, and boldly tell us of their pride and their confidence in their culture, we believe them without question. It has been a pleasure to hear these voices, and it reminds me that although there are some diverse female perspectives to see and hear on stage in Auckland at the moment, there is always room for more. 


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