11 Jul 2021

This content is tagged as Multi-Artform .


Dancer smashes perceptions around disability

“Art can smash perceptions and boundaries and Lusi wields one of the biggest hammers. Lusi has been acknowledged for her contributions to the arts community over the past year, winning awards. And each time, her mana is elevated”, says Rose Kirkup, artistic director of Wellington theatre group Everybody Cool Lives Here.

“Her courage to be a part of a world that is constantly letting her down fuels me to support her to find platforms where she can roar, changing the world through her magnificent artistic voice.”

Over the past year, Touch Compass founding member Lusi Faiva has received several awards culminating in the Arts Access PAK’nSAVE Artistic Achievement Award 2021, presented at Te Putanga Toi Arts Access Awards 2021 on 5 July.

Lusi has also received the Pacific Toa Award at the Creative New Zealand Arts Pasifika Awards 2020 and the Spirit of Attitude Award at the Attitude Awards 2020, and was Highly Commended in the Arts Access PAK’nSAVE Artistic Achievement Award 2019.

“It’s been astonishing receiving these awards,” Lusi says. “I feel so honoured and proud to be recognise for my contributions to the performing arts. I thank the people who have supported me. I appreciate their efforts and love.”

Of Lusi’s most recent award, the judges commented: “Lusi brings an abundance of joy to her work and to her audiences, transforming perceptions about disability and carving out a space for other disabled dancers. The power of her stories and the way she connects with us is exceptional, along with her generosity, long-term commitment to dance and to the community. Thank you, Lusi, for your outstanding contribution to the arts of Aotearoa and to the disabled community.”  

Lusi is an active and highly regarded member of the arts community. She attends every show she is invited to, and always congratulates and supports fellow dancers’ and choreographers’ efforts, in person and on social media.

Lusi has created and toured many pieces around New Zealand and Australia during her career. Most recently, she was part of Wellington’s CubaDupa 2021, performing a work called Taupou, made in collaboration with Everybody Cool Lives Here.

“Lusi became the Queen of CubaDupa, leading two parades up Cuba Street, culminating in a siva she choreographed with Tupe Lualua,” Rose says. “Supporting Lusi to roll into her power, becoming the true leader she has always been, was an honour.

“This process called for Lusi to reconnect with her past and be accepted into the Samoan community. She was brave, vulnerable and fierce through this journey. For me, this was clear when a four-year-old girl who also has cerebral palsy saw Lusi dancing. This child was dancing and feeling alofa from Lusi. You could see that this response moved the girl’s mother.”

Lusi’s Eden, a show about her childhood spent in institutions after her cerebral palsy diagnosis, was originally performed in 2001. She performed it for a second time in 2002 and again in 2007 for Touch Compass’ tenth birthday celebrations.

Shona McCullagh, Artistic Director of Auckland Arts Festival, says Lusi’s Eden “remains one of the most impactful works I have ever seen. This was truly ground-breaking work.”

Other performances Lusi has featured in include Mr and Mrs Jones, a short film about her foster parents who taught her to read and write, enabling her to communicate with others (2014); Masina Returning Home, a semi-autobiographical show (2019); and Becoming Masina, a documentary about the making of Masina Returning Home (also 2019).

Over the next year or so, Lusi plans to rework Masina Returning Home and also work on a digital piece, For Your Eyes Only, with Rowan Pierce and Everybody Cool Lives Here. She also wants to lengthen Taupou and take it to arts festivals around the country.

Lusi says she has learned a lot from others in the dance and theatre communities, which has helped her perform better. 

"I’m so grateful that I got to live my dreams and do something that I am passionate about. Being a performing artist has brought me a successful career with Touch Compass. I am so grateful for that each day.

“As a Sāmoan performer, I’d love to share the uniqueness of my own kaupapa and my disability. Showing the real me, being in a chair performing with style, in my way.”

Her advice to others is, "Don’t be afraid to do something that will bring confidence and teach people to understand how to achieve their goals in whatever they choose to do in life.

“As a performer with a disability, I have had to overcome barriers, with people saying that I can’t talk or dance. But it seems that I have proved them wrong. I believe it is possible for anyone who has a disability to achieve their dreams in this able-bodied world!”