K’Rd Strip: A Place to Stand

ARTS, Theatre & Performing Arts

Presented by Okareka Dance Company
Directed by Simon Coleman
Q Theatre, Auckland | June 11-15

For the second time in less than a week, I’m covering a show which I feel inadequately prepared to review. My experience with dance shows is limited and while I’ve enjoyed them in the past, I have lacked the vocabulary necessary to critique them appropriately. So I went into K’Rd Strip: A Place to Stand with a little bit of trepidation and unease.

However, beyond being an entertaining, heartfelt, and gripping show, K’Rd Strip is also immediately accessible. Even somebody with minimal—and even that’s being generous—knowledge of dance, I was entirely engaged by the show, not only visually, but also emotionally.

K’Rd Strip presents the titular street in a mixture of myth, history, and personal experience melded with New Zealand music, including some well-trodden songs like ‘Pressure Man’ and ‘How Bizarre’, some lesser known tracks like K’Lee’s ‘Can You Feel Me’, and the brilliant use of Kids of 88’s ‘My House’. Through each song, the performers investigate, interrogate, and encompass the culture of K’Rd, from the legend of Hape to its present day position as the centre of Auckland’s bohemian scene.

It’s also an immensely enjoyable and visually appealing ride. All six male performers are ridiculously talented and charismatic, moving through the numbers and changing characters throughout while nailing the darker dramatic beats as well as the comedic ones. Taane Mete and Tai Royal are particular highlights and bring real pathos and weight to their numbers. Jamie Burgess and Will Cooper-Barling also make the ‘My House’ number ring with raw truth and darkness. The entire cast also sing—so well, in fact, that I thought they might’ve been lip-syncing.

The craft on display is as stunning as the performers. Elizabeth Whiting has another success with minimalist leather costumes that are nonetheless striking and gorgeous, and even more crucially not unlike something you would and could see on K’Rd. The sound is evocative, as is the lighting by Ambrose Hills-Simonson. As unqualified as I am to judge this, the choreography is sharp and inventive.

What is most impressive about the show is its accessibility. Dance is an art that I’ve always been entranced and entertained by, but something that I’ve found hard to engage with on an even level. K’Rd Strip is not always easy to understand, but it’s a show that grips you from its beguiling beginning and keeps you there through the light, like the Grindr-inspired number lit by cellphone screens, and through the dark, like the gorgeous Annie Crummer song performed by an aging stripper. It’s a credit to director Simon Coleman and musical director Jason Te Mete that a show with so many disparate elements comes together so cohesively, especially when considering that the subject is such a messy place.

As someone who has lived on Karangahape Road for a whopping five months, and has drifted around it before then, I can say that the show captures the indomitable spirit and culture of the place. K’Rd Strip gets the essence of the street down to a tee, particularly through all the changes, from shopping district, to red light district, to gay lifestyle district, to its current position now as a place where anybody who doesn’t belong can go and just be. Even more importantly, the show captures the people of K’Rd; people who want to stand out and be who they are and be who they want to be, but also desperately want to belong to something. And that’s precisely what K’Rd is there for.