The Auckland Arts Festival kicks off with a wildly energetic and provocative production written, performed and directed by Pacific Island Women.

Tusiata Avia's Wild Dogs Under My Skirt, which achieved international success as a one-woman touring show, has been skilfully re-imagined as an ensemble piece with highly polished production values.

The show offers a uniquely poetic perspective on the experiences of Samoan women that is as relevant today as it was when "piggy Muldoon" was a thing. Opening with a humorous comparison between corned-beef and cannibalism, the show presents a refreshing vision of Polynesian culture that clearly struck a chord with the diverse audience packing out Q's Rangatira theatre.

Domestic violence and sexual assault are addressed with delicacy and raw honesty and familiar stories of physical discipline are brought home without the over-used mask of humour.


Director Anapela Polata'ivao expertly weaves together contributions from an outstanding production team; Jane Hakaraia's set and Rachel Marlow's lighting create a stunning interplay of light and shadow that brilliantly reflects the shifting moods of Avia's poetry.

Mario Faumui's sophisticated choreography celebrates the grace and beauty of diverse body types while singing, live drumming and a Greek style chorus highlight the show's hard-hitting themes.

The superb ensemble work shines in the story of Alofa who takes us on a hilarious journey that encompasses the lively gossip of village women, the bitchiness of Apia night clubs and the heart-break of a woman rejected by the people she loves.

The concluding image is delivered with almost overpowering intensity as a woman who has been branded a pa'umuku (slut), proudly reclaims her sexual freedom by identifying with the snarling energy of wild dogs.

But for me the gentle beauty and ironic humour of Avia's poetic voice asserts itself most clearly in quieter moments like Saane Vaipulu's deeply moving portrayal of a young girl innocently retelling her horrific experience of sexual violence.

What: Wild Dogs Under My Skirt
Where & When: Q-Theatre, Rangatira to March 11
Reviewed by: Kolopa Simei-Barton