28 Jan 2024

Pring It On! A Polyfest parody hits the stage

From Culture 101, 12:45 pm on 28 January 2024

For teenagers who grew up in the 2000s, Bring It On (2000) was a VHS and DVD staple. It would, without fail, be brought out during sleepovers. It felt like everyone knew the cheerleading chants. Kirsten Dunst was at the height of her fame.

Closer to home, it’s serving as inspiration for a new theatre show Pring It On!, with the pom poms swapped out for Polyfest.

The story goes behind the scenes, into the dramatic world of the world’s largest Secondary Schools’ Pacific Dance Festival. 

Pring It On

Pring It On Photo: Supplied

With six actors, 15 ensemble members and four band members, the dramedy and dance show describes itself as made by the brown, for the brown.

Pring It On! will premiere and launch a newly formed arts company by creative duo, Leki Jackson-Bourke and Saale Ilaua, Strictly Brown. 

He was a “Polyfest kid”, playwright, dancer, artist and former graduate of Pacific Institute of Performing Arts, Jackson-Bourke tells Perlina Lau.

“I grew up doing Polyfest, loved it, I spent over 10 years tutoring different groups. And growing up in the 2000s Bring it On was like it was our movie, right?”

Watching the film again, Jackson-Bourke realised its parallels with the world of Polyfest, he says.

“The cheerleading world is like what we do. The dance prep, the behind-the-scenes drama, the uniform drama, the ‘they stole our moves’.

“So, it was kind of like a parallel between both worlds and we just decided to write a parody of it.”

The cast of Pring it On, being Gen Z, were unaware of the film that inspired the show, he says.

“Everyone has to go watch this movie and then you'll get it. And they're like, oh my gosh, this is the best, this is so cool.

“I just think that they don't make movies like that anymore, classics that you can rewatch over and over again. So yeah, the Gen Z babies had a bit of homework to do.”

Leki Jackson-Bourke

Leki Jackson-Bourke Photo: Supplied

He and his creative partner Saale Ilaua were both teaching high school when they decided to form Strictly Brown.

“I got bored with my job. I was like, I can't do this, I want to quit. I was a high school teacher and my friend Saale who I worked with at the time, we both felt overwhelmed in our jobs.

“And I was like, man, why are we so overworked and underpaid? Why do we hate this?

“We obviously loved the kids, the kids are our passion and our life, our heart. But we just we couldn't do the school system.”

And so Strictly Brown was born, he says.

The company has a wide-ranging cultural approach, he says.

“We steal from all the Pacific cultures, let's steal this from the Niueans and let's steal this from the Tongans and let's steal this from the Fijians.

“And that's what guides our approach and our practice and how we conduct ourselves in the space and how we operate as a company.”

Pasifika New Zealanders have to navigate a complex cultural world, he says.

“I remember growing up was just really confusing. I had to go here and have to be Tongan. And I have to go there, and I have to be Samoan. And then my parents are like don't speak your language, you need to learn English.

“So, there's all this conflict, conflicting views and worlds and spaces that I had to step into.”

He sees the young people he works with going through similar experiences.

“There are kids who can't speak their language and are frustrated, and don't feel Tongan enough because they don't speak Tongan.

“This is a real common thing that Pacific kids have, they're like, ‘oh sorry, I can't speak my language, I’m plastic’.”

It’s a “sabotage kind of mindset”, he says.

“I'm like, all good, I grew up plastic and now I'm not plastic.

“So, it's not your story. It's not the end of the world. You can change the narrative and shift the focus; you’ve just got to put in the work.”

Pring It On! is at Mangere Arts Centre January 31 to February 3.