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Lusi Faiva is a disabled Samoan woman using a wheelchair dressed in a lavish brown paper dress and masquerade mask. She is surrounds by two other performers on stage under purple lights.

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Lusi Faiva, a Samoan wheelchair-user, wears a lavish paper dress and masquerade mask. She is surrounded by two other performers under stage lights.

Lusi Faiva’s AIGA is full of disability joy at a time we need it the most

Being in a space that revels in disability pride for just one evening was healing for many in the audience.

  • I am WARRIOR 
    See me soar!
    Hear me with your eyes
    As they fill with tears of
    Pride
    Disbelief
    Joy alofa
    My chair is my auuapega
    Malosi
    DO NO BE FOOLED FOR I 
    AM DEADLY

     

    These words are projected on a wall as award-winning Samoan artist Lusi Faiva, centre-stage, reads them out loud and proud. I read along too, letting them sink into my own heart.

    AIGA, part of the Auckland Arts Festival, recounts Lusi’s life story in her own way through dance, singing and performance. From her birth and upbringing, to when she first experienced a loving family and navigating the aftermath of being abandoned and abused, the show traverses a wide spectrum of emotions.

    You feel your heart breaking during her adoption story, you revel in the raucous energy of the second act as Aiga by Shepherd's Reign blasts through the speakers, before turning to pure bliss when Lusi spins in her power-wheelchair dancing with ecstasy as if her life plays out as a pop music video.

    During a scene that imagines an accessible debutante ball, Lusi is dressed in a lavish frock made of brown paper. She is wooed by a charming suitor and their flirtatious dance gave me butterflies.

    The finale of the show was a celebration of Lusi and our communities. I got teary-eyed as the audience was invited up on stage to dance with the cast; those who might not normally feel comfortable moving their body in front of others joined in to dance, with no need to hide from the able-gaze.

  • It was a stark reminder of how art - and life - can look so different when it is disability-led and decisions are carefully considered with aroha and alofa.

  • After a confusing day of unpacking Whaikaha’s purchasing rules update, being in a space full of disability joy for just one evening was healing.

    Before even getting into the actual theatre, the foyer full of other disabled folks and Pasifika kai said: “You’re welcome here”. 

    Inside the theatre, there were multiple seating options with removable chairs, bean bags or just the floor. Wheelchair-users weren’t ushered to the ‘wheelchair bay’ (IYKYK), we could essentially sit anywhere, even up on a platform that had a ramp. 

    The whole show was audio-described beautifully by director Moana Ete, proving how accessibility does not need to be independent of beauty.

    While I’m still figuring how my own life and many of my disabled friends’ lives will now be more restricted and get smaller after the changes to disability support funding purchasing rules, Lusi’s show AIGA gave me a sense of hope that things can get better - but only with a fight.

    AIGA is showing at Te Pou Theatre until 24 March. Tickets can be purchased at the Auckland Arts Festival website.

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