Back of the Bus

We’re now heading into Autumn but Wellington gave us a reminder of the best of summer with a warm and sunny afternoon on the waterfront. A week ago we’d been scheduled to see a performance called Back of the Bus performed by Java Dance Theatre as part of the What if the City was a Theatre festival but a move to level 2 COVID-19 restrictions on the back of an unexplained outbreak in Auckland curtailed the scheduled performance. Thankfully a week later the restrictions were lifted and our rescheduled bus ride was available.

We met friends in Wellington near Te Papa where the bus ride would start. There was a variety of different things happening on the waterfront and as we were early we were able to watch people young and old jumping off the waterfront diving platform and also some more adventurous guys riding a small bike off an improvised ramp into the water. Nearby Kozo Komatsubara a.k.a. Kozo Kaos was down from Auckland to wow a growing crowd with his “don’t try this at home” fire and knife juggling feats. I was so busy taking photos that I was nearly late for the bus.

We boarded the full-to-the-brim bus and the six of us were spread out along the length of the vehicle. We were soon off, wondering what we were in for. Not too far down the road we stopped to pick up a harried woman (Sacha Copland, troupe leader and creator of this experience) laden down with shopping and so the dancing began. Our new passenger danced up and down the bus with her bags constantly being dropped, picked up, emptied, popped and contents spread over the floor and passengers. Everyone was laughing at the comedy and energy, a wonderful icebreaker on this unusual journey

There were more dances as people we thought were passengers got up and started dancing. The handrails, bars of the bus and passengers were all made use of in the dancing, with audience interaction invoking moments of friendly embarrassment and laughter. We also had stops where we all got off to follow our dancers to destinations unknown. First up was a jaunt to Cuba Street and the Bucket Fountain where we were treated to a dance of joy and happiness from Kia Jewell. Kia would be our smiling guide for most of the off-bus excursions. The third dancer was Emma Coppersmith who as it happens I was sitting next to. Emma started dancing after she couldn’t find her ringing phone, this escalating into a stressful and intense dance around the bus as she sought the annoying and continuing ringing sounds that rang out over the sound system.

Our second stop saw us led to an old house where we sat around a room and were treated to more individual and group movements, after first trouping past Sasha who was oddly motionless and cooling down under the spray of a hose. The dancing started slow and focused, with changing positions demonstrating incredible strength and balance. This evolved into a very physical, stomping group dance which had the wooden floor of our 150 year old venue jumping and flexing alarmingly. The bones of the building were strong and it survived the pump of many feet before we all exited to be led back to our transport.

We travelled back towards out starting point with more dancing and audience participation. A number of men were chosen to apply lipstick to our dancers as the bus made its way through traffic with varying levels of success. Eyeliner was also applied to dancers and passengers. Shoes were put on with assistance, as was a necklace, and I helped tie a scarf inexpertly around Kia’s neck. The subsequent acrobatics and dance was happy and fun, everyone from passengers to dancers enjoying themselves, grins all over the bus.

Arriving back outside Te Papa I though we were done only to find everyone led off the bus one last time on a merry chase for what was the final performance outside St John’s bar. Emma performed an exuberant and celebratory dance in the sun as the already ensconced bar patrons wondered what the hell was going on. Our dancers and guides soon joined in and enticed some of the passengers to get up and take part in one final celebratory experience. I had expected to be surprised and impressed, what we got was a whole lot more and ended up being inspirational and uplifting, a thoroughly wonderful experience. If you get the chance to be a passenger on the Back of the Bus then make sure you jump at the opportunity, you won’t be disappointed.

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