“My name in some countries translates as vessel so that’s literally my job is to be able to transport messages” ~ Jahra Wasasala
Jahra ‘Rager’ Wasasala is an Aotearoa-born mixed-race 23-year-old contemporary dancer, choreographer and spoken word artist who created the 2015 award winning contemporary dance theatre work titled “MOTHER/JAW” in collaboration with choreographic artist and dancer, Grace Woollett.
Winning ‘Best Dance Performance’ amongst others at the 2015 Fringe Festival, the contemporary dance/spoken word theatre work explored themes behind the rituals of passage into young womanhood, the stripped indigenous mother-country in a historical and modern context, and how we must connect young mixed blood to old stolen blood.
Jahra says she used to be disheartened that she couldn’t properly trace her roots back to their origins, and some of that struggle with culture and identity was certainly included in MOTHER/JAW. She says, ”I don’t think I’ll ever be able to completely trace my lineage. I think I’m in a position like a lot of people my age who can’t trace/can’t go back/can’t name their people, I used to be sad about it. But I don’t think it’s a sad thing anymore – I think it’s okay. I’m obviously a hybrid and an accumulation of everyone and everything that I come into contact with… Regardless of who I can name and can’t name, and regardless of who I can or can’t trace, they are with me all the time — they influence my work and how I am every day. So I obviously have a very diverse ethnic background, and it does shape me but it doesn’t define me as well”.
After performing at Poetry Idol and meeting fellow-poet and now mentor, Grace Taylor two years ago, Jahra says it was the word ‘half-caste’ in one of her poems at Poetry Idol that caught Grace’s attention and connected them for good. “I read [Grace Taylor’s poetry collection ‘Afakasi Speaks’] and I realised, ‘Woah she’s totally speaking in my language’. She’s speaking about things that I hadn’t been able to articulate yet. And because she did that, it released something in me to be able to say ‘Well, okay, I can talk about it now,’ but in my way which is through movement. So that’s how I first started to use her book to really create this beast of a work, this ‘she-mongrel’, as I like to call it.”
Jahra chuckles from her belly, her voice is raspy; it’s the day after the awards and MOTHER/JAW has just wrapped up its season and exited on a high — taking home best lighting, best production, best sound design and also the Auckland live development award – meaning Auckland Live will invest in the theatre piece to be developed and then presented to a larger platform.
“To feel like MOTHER/JAW was welcomed and to be told it belonged in this city is quite incredible, that’s all I think artists really want at the end of the day — what humans want in general is just to belong, to connect and to feel love and to give love back. So I think that really simple human need was met under MOTHER/JAW for me and the rest of my collective.”
“To get that affirmation to keep going is so important, and I think especially in Auckland and New Zealand, we have a habit of not giving affirmation to those who need it or deserve it. We like to shrug everyone off all the time and just pretend like no one’s THAT talented. But there are a lot of talented people here. So to have someone external give you that affirmation to keep going is a blessing.”
”Sometimes your mother gives you salt instead of water”
“I wanted to create a work that was a universal metaphor for those things and that could be taken in by many cultures and many communities who feel that lack or that loss of connection. Those were the real themes behind MOTHER/JAW and I’m all about making art accessible, because when I was younger, contemporary dance wasn’t accessible until I saw myself reflected. So what I really want to have behind MOTHER/JAW as well as those themes, was to be able to allow the audience to see themselves reflected in it.”
“Sometimes, I mistake being a woman, with being everything else at once.”
“The first dance or dancer I saw myself reflected in was Janet Jackson when she came here, my mother really facilitated that and I think, being palagi, my mother knew that I needed to see myself reflected early, so she introduced me — not just Janet, a lot of people, but I really connected with Janet early on. And I saw this woman of colour, like, so powerful on stage with natural curly hair and beautiful dark skin, and just expressing her sexuality, and talking about domestic violence, and dancing amazingly while wearing amazing clothing, and looking strong. Physically and holistically strong. I think that was really important for me to see early on. When I saw her I didn’t even know what it was that she was doing, but I was like ‘I just wanna be Janet and I just wanna do that — I don’t know what it is but that’s what I wanna do’.
“I realised it was special for me because a lot of young women of colour aren’t allowed to see themselves like that early on. But I was allowed to see an important aspect of womanhood early. So I knew it was ok for me to talk about provocative things, I knew that it was okay to wear my hair however the fuck I wanted, I knew that it was okay to own my body and own my space. So I came into contemporary dance already with that, which is a blessing and it’s not common — I had already found myself a long time ago and all I needed from contemporary dance training was technique, refinement, and direction. But in terms of knowing what I wanted to say, I already had that.”
***MOTHERJAW is currently casting for their upcoming Development and Performance Seasons for 2015. If you’re interested head to their Facebook for more details HERE. There are just two more weeks left to ask for an Expression of Interest Form by emailing MOTHER/JAW’s Producer Kerry Wallis at firstname.lastname@example.org. Deadline for EOI is 6pm Friday July 24th.
**Check out Jahra’s online portfolio HERE.