17 Mar 2024

Aiga: Lusi Faiva’s disability-led Pasifika show on her life in her own words

From Culture 101, 12:50 pm on 17 March 2024
Aiga - Lusi Faiva

Aiga - Lusi Faiva Photo: JINKI CAMBRONERO

Lusi Faiva

Lusi Faiva Photo: Raymond Sagapolutele

In Samoan, aiga means family. Not just your immediate family but your wider circle. It could be through blood, marriage or even an adopted connection. 

It’s also the name and central theme of Lusi Faiva’s new disability and Pasifika-led show with Touch Compass, premiering at the 2024 Auckland Arts Festival.

Touch Compass is Aotearoa’s leading arts organisation with disability-led work. 

Aiga is a devised theatre piece and a deeply personal work with autobiographical components. It’s an amalgamation of dance, movement, music, and speaking.

Faiva is an artist and dancer with cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. Following her diagnosis at the age of two, she was taken to the Kimberley Centre - an institution for people with intellectual disabilities - by her mother on the advice of a doctor. 

But at the centre Faiva experienced neglect, loneliness and wasn’t taught about her Samoan heritage. The shared space also had people of various ages and disabilities but there was limited interaction. 

Faiva left the Kimberley Centre at the age of seven, but her upbringing was challenging, with a tumultuous home life and doctors trying to make her walk with surgery and rehabilitation. 

It’s perhaps not a surprise Faiva has spent her life in the arts finding freedom, finding her voice and a sense of control in creative expression. 

Speaking to Culture 101’s Perlina Lau, Faiva says she doesn’t want people to pity her. Aiga is Faiva’s way of telling her life story, on her terms and in her own words. 

"I wanted to create Aiga with a simple idea that would bring a sense of discovery to our identities to explore the real meaning of accessibility to us all and to deepen our sense of belonging," Faiva says.

For Faiva, dance has always been a way to connect with her Samoan culture and heritage. 

"I'm learning a lot about myself in this space because I have always worked before in a fast-paced place where time is limited, this process gives me a real chance to create in a slow paced time way. Although I like moving quickly with momentum, I have to remember the speed of my disability is not always as fast so it takes me longer to get there."

The show has been a learning process for all involved and openness has been paramount in creating the devised piece. The development has been a slow process allowing the creators to take their time and be open to how the show evolves naturally. 

"I hope to be able to discover more ways to make it more accessible for the disabled and non-disabled people to be part of the show," Faiva says.

"Though Aiga will bring significant benefits to those with the same experience as me, it will make the process more challenging to get people to think about how they can be accountable for their actions and their positions in society and government."

Aiga will premiere at Te Pou Theatre 20-24 March as part of the Auckland Arts Festival.