June 29, 2021Announcements

Cat Ruka talks THE NEST

In a couple of weeks Basement Theatre will roll it’s garage door back up after a two-week closure to welcome in The Nest: A Street Style Solo Dance Festival, cultivated by respected movement artists Jahra Wasasala and Ooshcon Masseurs (CONJAH) and presented as part of Basements 2021 Matariki Season. Throughout this festival, a small and mighty rōpū of street dancers that CONJAH have mentored and nourished will claim the Basement atamira as theirs, inviting their communities into a week-long celebration of dance born from the streets, pavements and carparks of Tāmaki Makaurau.

Before these artists enter into their exchange with us, I want to take some time to speak to the wider significance of a street dance festival coming down to Basement Theatre. I want to mihi to CONJAH, who are brave and intentional in their institutional disruptions, and whose shared mana has come into being through deep and continuous investment in the communities they whakapapa to.

I’ve known CONJAH on a heart and wairua level for a while, and have loved observing their recent shift into tuakanatanga, done in a way that rings true to who they are as mokopuna of Te Moana Nui a Kiwa. Together they weave a creative and relational integrity into the spaces they grace, sparking movement talanoa for rangatahi that ignites the collective before the individual, the ancestor before the present-day person. They know their shit when it comes to street dance histories, they bring those ghosts into the room, and they stay diligent to the wider Oceanic kaupapa of service and family. It’s a practice guided by values and philosophies that not only aligns with Basement’s future, but also has a tonne to offer the dance sector as it moves toward its new dawning.


When CONJAH came forward with the provocation to bring street-born expressions into our whare, I marinated for days on the potential for systemic transformation this offering could bring. Theatre venues like ours, which at their core affirm a colonial modality of giving and receiving performance, aren’t necessarily set up to uplift or whakamana the more circular, cypher-oriented covenant of street-born styles. In all its various expressions, street dance exercises a flow of energy where giver and receiver activate the performed moment together. One could argue that there is no spectator in street dance - rather just a whānau who are all in co-design in real time together.

Our whare, though it might ride the edge of or push against colonial theatre forms at times, still gives rise to a certain code of separatist audience-performer behaviour. So when we manaaki artists in like those of The Nest, we are not only asking for them to create and share their work, but also deal with codes that aren’t necessarily conducive to the worlds they are building. Through acknowledging how colonial ideals are so deeply baked into our walls both spatially and culturally, we come to realise how lucky we are to have artists like this come through. We are humbled into seeing the GIANT honour it is for us to host such conjurings.

The movement artists involved in the festival are all POC and each possess something that nods to a new age in Aotearoa’s street dance lineage. They are Ethan Hika aka Astarte IMAN (vogue), Mosiana Lata Webster aka NIX (krump), Avneil Mohan aka Avstract (Hip Hop), John Vaifale aka Happyfeet (Hip Hop) and Hayley Tekahika-Walters (Waacking). The hardest thing will be choosing which artist from this line up to witness within the week.

The festival is produced by Elyssia Wilson-Heti (Fafswag), who has held the process thus far with the soft yet impactful touch that only a queen of the Moana can possess. Coming off the back of some heavyweight producing for various festival shows in the summer season, Elyssia is the mama that every festival artist doesn’t know they need until they have it.

Having been interested in the collision between the street and the theatre for a time, and knowing that CONJAH have a deep read on that collision also, I bring a fair deal of excitement and anticipation to the lead up of this festival. Our industry has done a lot of investigating into what happens when theatre spills out onto the streets - but what can come from allowing the street - in all its non-linear wisdom - to leak into the theatre more? Can we allow it to soften the systems of hierarchy we perpetuate? Can we imagine new families of audience, intersectional in their identities and fierce in their code-switching across class, culture and politics? Nau mai haere mai whānau. Come on down and be in talanoa with us through this special time.

The inaugural THE NEST: Street Style Solo Dance Festival is on at Basement Theatre from 13 - 17 July at 6PM & 8PM. Read more and book here.