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WWJD? In Conversation with Jahra Rager

WW..D? Is an interview segment where we get to know awesome people that are a part of the creative community in New Zealand.

This week we spoke to Jahra Rager. Jahra is a poet, choreographer and dancer based in Auckland. She’s just come out of the first season of MOTHER/JAW which she choreographed and has received a great amount critical acclaim. As well as that she teaches dance under Ia Manuia and performs in internationally reknowed productions such as I AM by Lemi Ponifasio of MAU and for Fijian collective Vou. Read more for what would Jahra do?

When I first heard of ‘Jahra Rager’ it was as Jahra – the spoken word poet. What is poetry to you?

Poetry came at a really important time in my early creative life. I was training at Unitec’s Contemporary Dance programme, and when I was in second year, I started to feel really constricted and suppressed. When you train for a long period of time in a concentrated regime with a (sometimes) singular perspective, it can begin to affect your wairua’s health. At the time I didn’t feel like I had the tools to able to completely express myself, my opinion, or my political/personal views. I needed release. Through one of my best friends, I found the poet Staceyann Chin, and when I saw her I recognised a language that I already knew. And on the spot I just decided that I was going to do it – and it happened to be exactly what I needed. And it all unravelled and wove itself back from there. Divine timing!

You were a part of ‘Decolonise the night’ a monthly spoken word night at 1885. What does the word decolonise mean?

Haha, the word ‘decolonise’ is so massive. A thousand essays worth from a thousand expert writers kind-of-massive. But for me, ‘decolonise’ at the time and within that spoken word collective context was experimentation at creating structure, and then breaking it down. It was fucking with the systems that were in place. It was challenging our own boundaries. It was recognising what holds us, and seeing the potential in what could let us go. It was objectively critiquing, but also seeing our roles that condoned certain practices. It was a lot of lessons that have led to quite incredible affirmations.  It also prepared me for beginning to return to what was.

There’s a super spiritual aspect to your choreography. Is dance a form of therapy?

I don’t know if dance for me is ‘therapy’. Maybe it used to be. But I think dance and movement is just an extension of living for me. (That line has the potential to sound super lame and cliché, haha.) But it really is. When I see powerful contemporary dance work that resonates with me, I am always reminded that this medium is a NEED for me, not a want. Not a should. Not a maybe. It has always been a decision that was made well before I ever said ‘yes’.

Contemporary dance, in my humble opinion, is THE root. It is of the spirit, absolute. It is the language without needing ‘language’. The realm that I work in/am interested in is organic, instinctual, ancient, and seeks to connect back and forward simultaneously by being present. If that makes sense. I don’t think there is anything more spiritual than being fully-embodied in the present.

Both your dance and poetry practices seem to relate closely to forms of identity, can you elaborate on this?

I think in a basic sense, the concepts of identity in my creative work is really reflective of age. In youth we all seek to understand ourselves and how we connect to everything and everyone else. I mean, being mixed race has always been an internal conflict for me. But recognising how that conflict is connected to and reflected in the rest of the world is what is key. The aim of the game is to see the connections in everything, and then see where the connections have been/are in the process of being severed. Then we facilitate creative work about it, in an effort to grow understanding and consciousness. That is how we use our influence and our intentions for change.
A person’s thought / contributes to an opinion / contributes to an idea / contributes to an action / contributes to a manifestation / contributes to a movement / contributes to shifts / contributes to change / contributes to mass connection. So beginning to understand ME/I through identity work is really important in the scheme of WE/US.

Mother/Jaw just finished it’s first season at the Auckland Fringe. Tell us about that?

Sometimes, your tongue is cut out of your mouth at birth.
Sometimes, your mother gives you salt instead of water.
Sometimes, you dye your clothes with someone else’s clay.
Sometimes, I mistake being a woman,
with being everything else at once.

– MOTHERJAW

‘MOTHER/JAW’ is a SHE-MONGREL of a work. She is a new and raw contemporary dance / poetry-inspired work. ‘MOTHER/JAW’ is a highly collaborative work that includes a solo work from one of my best friends/collaborators Grace Woollett, and an ensemble work from myself.
‘MOTHER/JAW’ explores the 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. It unapologetically speaks about what we are taught to not speak about, and it seeks to spark discussion.
‘MOTHER/JAW’ was inspired by the work and writing of the internationally acclaimed and award-winning poet Grace Taylor and her collection of poetry in her book ‘Afakasi Speaks’.
The clan behind MOTHER/JAW were very humbled to have well-received, with having our first SOLD-OUT season last February as part of the Auckland Fringe Festival at The Basement Theatre. And we will make our return to the stage in 2016.

If you want to know more about MOTHER/JAW, you can find us on facebook where we have all of our information, events, photography, trailers etc. Do it.

What’s next for you?

I have a few exciting works/projects/collaborations up my sleeve! But y’know what they say, “Don’t talk about it, BE about it.” So if you wanna keep up with what I do, keep an eye on:
– My contemporary dance work MOTHER/JAW / facebook.com/MOTHERJAW
– The new pacific initiative I teach classes under called Ia Manuia / IaManuia.org, facebook.com/IaManuia
– My professional profile on CargoCollective / cargocollective.com/JAHRAGER
Or follow me on twitter/facebook/tumblr/instagram by searching ‘JAHRAGER’.

Lastly, any words of advice for budding dancers or choreographers?

You are loved. Be open. Listen. Know our roots. Know your voice is necessary. Surround yourself with people who foster your passion. Become obsessed with what you do. Turn your creativity into a lifestyle. Create constantly. Sharpen your tools constantly. Sharpen your fangs unapologetically. Equip yourself with the skills and knowledge you need. Place value on spirit before money. Understand your relationship with money. Understand the difference between the world and the earth. Be fearless, especially when you’re afraid. Fight for yourself and others. Always for others. Let yourself sleep. Give yourself time. Give yourself love. Give yourself patience. Become connected to your body, to the body of the earth and of its history. Learn from negativity. Move towards light. Strive for excellence within truth. Serve the work. Stay hungry. Learn how to hunt. Remember why you started. Give gratitude. Always.

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