K'Rd Strip: A Place To Stand - Okareka Dance Company
11 June 2013, Q Theatre, Auckland
Reviewed by Cat Ruka
Sitting atop one of Auckland's highest inner-city ridges, our infamous and darling Karangahape Road continues to sparkle and shine like the crazy diamond she is. A place that welcomes our hedonistic desires and catches the lost souls of our society, she is a woman of fabulous splendour, gravel and grit, and innate vulnerability that wins the soft spots of her locals. Considered by many to be our most notorious and deliciously debauched site, Karangahape Road serves as inspiration for Okareka Dance Company’s new drag-style cabaret K’ Rd Strip: A Place To Stand.
Six sensual 'nightclub warriors' of bound black leather and staccato heels take us on a wild and romping journey that celebrates the stories embedded in this infamous landmark. Parading and prowling through dank and dusky spaces, the performers execute tantalizing bite-size acts that, among many other rich and decadent displays, include a ballroom iPhone dance, a bird-mating ritual, a bleak rape scene and a number with towels that skilfully transitions from a cackling moment in the shower shared by a group of old women to a threatening scenario in a male sauna room.
Dirty, hilarious and sorrowful secrets are unapologetically laid bare, and are told through an impressive range of performance modes. Achingly sweet singing, strong contemporary dance athleticism and sensitive, dramatic storytelling are executed by a cast whose performance dexterity pushes the work beyond traditional parameters of cabarets or musicals. Transitions between acts are creatively and skilfully managed with a directorial nous that gives the work a razor sharp edge.
Unique to the company's approach to cabaret is the abstract context of mythology that frames the storytelling. Deeply grounded in Maoritanga, the work is aligned with the legend of Hape – a crippled man who rode a taniwha to Aotearoa after being left behind by his brothers. Legend has it that Hape arrived here before his brothers did, and was seen on the ridge welcoming them with open arms. This act of unconditional welcome is shown in the opening of the work with a powerful lingering karanga, ever present as a reminder of the warm embrace that Hape offered after being turned away.
Somehow all of the extreme fabulousness that constantly oozes from this daring work is executed with a fine and understated minimalism. Physical presence of bodies and fragments of emotional truth that sit beneath the bedazzled caricatures of K' Rd are exposed. We are given profound unravellings of takataapui identity, accenting many facets of how masculinity and femininity can be experienced. K’ Rd Strip: A Place To Stand is both an entertaining ode to a legacy of people and a critical provocation of sexual and cultural displacement, where real life experiences tell of a place that is both a dumping ground for unfortunate acts and a golden runway of heart, acceptance and belonging.