Welcome to Our House: A Review of FEMSLICK

FEMSLICK, is one of those rare works where we are well and truly welcomed into the house of the makers. The show is the vision of the artist Akashi Fisiinaua and brought to us by FAFSWAG, an arts collective based in South Auckland that celebrates queer brown bodies, contemporary art and cultural restoration.

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The house of FEMSLICK is uncompromisingly built on the personal experiences of the pride and the pain that comes from living in queer coloured bodies, and we as audience members are welcomed without being shamed for our unfamiliarity to this lived experience. Sam Brooks reviews FEMSLICK, the new piece by popular underground collective FAFSWAG.

There’s a quote from Rachel Kaadi Ghandzh’s New York Times profile of legendary novelist Toni Morrison that speaks on the author’s work:

“She democratically opens the door to all of her books only to say, “You can come in and you can sit, and you can tell me what you think, and I’m glad you are here, but you should know that this house isn’t built for you or by you.”

It’s a powerful commentary on Morrison’s work, and one that resonates for all those who make work that is proudly self-defined by its otherness. FEMSLICK, is one these rare works, where we are well and truly welcomed into their house. The show is the vision of the artist Akashi Fisiinaua and brought to us by FAFSWAG, an arts collective based in South Auckland that celebrates queer brown bodies, contemporary art and cultural restoration.

From the first moments of the show, we are carefully guided, we are taught how the audience should react and what the performers expect from us in return. Fisiinaua MCs the show, and there’s a clear awareness that the audience is both made up of people familiar with FAFSWAG (knowing what the rules are, how to react, how to be) and also made up of The Basement Theatre Studio crowd (used to sitting and watching in the dark). Both are welcomed in, on an even playing field.

The show begins, with most of the performers among us. It’s a genuinely and subtly masterful gesture. What follows is a tremendous mixture of dance, theatre and music. It’s the closest The Basement has been to New York, and absolutely the closest it’s ever felt like to a club. Fisiinaua is a world-class MC, and she presides over the stage like the Voice of God. The performers channel Fisiinaua, they respond to her commands, vogueing across the stage, falling to the ground almost on command and rising again like spirits. She is expressing herself through the performers; in that moment they’re just as much an extension of her identity as they are individuals. She commands the DJ, she commands the beat, and she commands the dancing.

FEMSLICK initially feels like an episodic series of vignettes, there’s a piece about pulling in the club where one dancer throws labels at us while another dances provocatively, and another a hypnotic yoga number between two dances that includes some unexpectedly provocative movements with yoga mats. Despite this initial feeling, FEMSLICK slowly reveals itself to be building, almost sneakily, to a climax.

When “broke performing and creative artist” Jaycee Tanuvasa steps onstage, she shifts the entire studio space around her. She performs a tremendous dance number, and then stops, telling us up front that she’s not stopping because she’s tired, she’s just unfit. We are at the emotional climax of the show. Fisiinaua pushes Tanuvasa as far as she can possibly go, and then even further. This pushing of Tanuvasa to her limits is a visceral and immediate rendering of the experience of being othered. When you are othered, every moment is a performance. It’s not necessarily a performance of choice but one that is forced on you even when you’re tired, pushed past your limits and no longer want to perform.

It’s cliche to call FEMSLICK vulnerable, and even moreso to call it brave. Seeing a show like this at The Basement Theatre Studio right in the middle of the unofficial theatre precinct is radical. Not only is it a world-class show that could be translated into any experimental space in New York or Edinburgh without a single note being given, but it is a show that feels no need to compromise or compartmentalise its otherness. If anything, from the moment you enter their house, you are other. FEMSLICK is its own beast, its own tale and its own rendering of that tale, and it’s a tremendous one at that.

FEMSLICK runs at
The Basement Theatre, Auckland
until Saturday 18 February

For tickets to deVINE, go here