Wild Dogs Under My Skirt – Christchurch Arts Festival 2019

Opening Wild Dogs Under My Skirt at Haeata Community Campus was probably a first for the Christchurch Arts Festival, but it was at the request of the poet Tusiata Avia to have it here as this was the place she grew up. The audience was a mixture of the often stereotypical arts festival attendee (of which I fit nicely into) and a great turnout from the Pasifika community. There were family and friends — and a sense that this was an occasion.

Christchurch Arts Festival: Wild Dogs Under My Skirt
Christchurch Arts Festival: Wild Dogs Under My Skirt

As I enter the theatre I feel a great sense of excitement, curiosity, friendship and familiarity in the audience. There is laughter and a nice sense of welcome. The fire alarm goes off and we all troop outside. Yet more laughter and a chance to connect with friends and family, back in we go and the lights go down. Five chairs are on the stage, cans of corned beef are the only props. The first poem is about saturated fat, the audience laughs.

It is worth commenting about the audience, and Tusiata Avia touched on it later in the question and answer session - she said she knew where the Samoans were in the audience, there was laughter and recognition, for me it was like being in a crowd where there is an "in joke" and you don't quite get it ... there is a sense of slight discomfort, Is there something I'm missing? Should I be laughing when I'm not quite sure what I am laughing at? Good theatre can take you to places where you don't want to go, and a bit of discomfort isn't a bad thing...

It wasn't until the end, and during the question and answers session that I was reminded that this was poetry, not a play - or was it a play, I'm still not sure? Acting out a poem or poems is not something I have ever experienced before and the ability of the cast and the clever direction meant that the invisible line between poetry and acting was crossed seamlessly. It felt like a poetic play if that makes any sense.

A series of poems could have led to a rather disjointed experience, but lighting, choreography and song created interludes and links that brought it all together. There were no characters as such, no lead role or supporting actors, each took their turn, became who they needed to be and then seemed to drift off, creating an easy space for the next poem.

You couldn't go to Wild Dogs Under My Skirt without being awed by the poem of the title. The build up and intensity was vicious, visceral and immensely powerful. The words, the lighting ... and the noise! The noise was something else, these beautiful women became an other - a pack of dogs, scary as hell.

This play that's not a play is well worth seeing. Tusiata Avia and the producer Victor Rodger are cousins, they come from here and we should be really proud. It is a great start to the festival and I hope plenty of people take the opportunity to see it before it heads to New York!

My next venture into the world of the Arts Festival is to see Dog Power. These two talented young men have made their home in Serbia, they live and breath their music and it is great that they are back in their home town for the festival.  The cheeky curly-haired wee boy who used to tear up and down our street on his trike has grown into a talented musician - it will be nice to see him again.

Wild dogs under my skirt (Thursday 25 July at Haeata, Friday 26 July and Saturday 27 July at The Piano, 7pm)
Tickets $45 to $50 plus service fees

This deeply personal, multi-award winning work by Christchurch's Tusiata Avia has delighted, shocked and seduced audiences all around the world, and now it's coming home to Ōtautahi. This stunning piece is now a six-woman show, produced by NZ theatre taonga Victor Rodger and Anapela Polata'ivao is the award-winning director.

Wild Dogs Under My Skirt

Christchurch Arts Festival 2019

The biennial Christchurch Arts Festival brings a mix of performances to Ōtautahi. The 2019 Festival highlights Christchurch creations. The 2019 Christchurch Arts Festival runs from Friday 26 July to Sunday 4 August. Browse the full festival programme to see all the events, concerts, activities, and exhibitions.