Review: K Road Strip - A Place to Stand

Image credit: K Road Strip, Okareka Dance Company

Image credit: K Road Strip, Okareka Dance Company

As a form of expression, Māori haka is intimately tied to the people, place and land each dance references. I’d also argue that for every Kiwi – regardless of ethnicity or background – watching or being part of a haka is an experience intrinsically tied to what it means to be associated with Aotearoa New Zealand.

So if seeing one makes you feel a sense of belonging, then imagine the energy hanging in the air after watching six shape-shifting dancers move in a few smooth moves from late night drag queen routines to a full blown haka referencing our notorious Karangahape Road.

This is K Road Strip.

A bold, sassy and clever expression of collective identity; Okareka Dance Company’s acclaimed show is back in town for a second season ahead of premiering at the Edinburgh Festival in August. It opened at Q Theatre’s loft on Tuesday night to a packed audience.

Having seen the show’s original premiere two years and a follow up show that season, I can tell you that I’ve now witnessed three standing ovations, each a testament to the collective brilliance of this unique work.

Over the space of an hour it pays homage to the whanau by choice not blood that, for decades now, have called K Road home. It references the twinks and the thugs, the queens and the ladies of the night, fa’afa, leiti, takatāpui and trans*, and no doubt resonates with anyone who has ever spent the night on this strip of road.

It weaves together the stories of these people in a thoughtful narrative that sees each performer inhibit several characters, shifting along the gender and sexuality spectrums.

The ability to shape-shift between different characters is not the only strength of each of Okareka’s dancers; their A Capella vocals add another brilliant layer to the show and give it an undeniably South Pacific feel.

Many of the scenes have been reworked from the first season and the soundtrack has been updated with the addition of songs fusing Lorde, Hollie Smith and Kimbra with distinctly island beats and a strong reference to drag.

This season also sees Okareka seem to place more emphasis on Pasifika representation. Beautiful harmonies weave in stories that reference the multiple experiences of the Pasifika people whose lives intersect with K Road. It is a bold yet gentle homage.

But just as a haka unites in its sense of belonging, it can also be divisive in its call to challenge. And in recognizing that K Road is a place to stand for so many in Auckland’s LGBTQIA communities, including Pacific communities, the show takes a particular position that emphasizes the place of some over others.

It was a shame that the portrayal of a trans ftm character from the first season has been dropped, and there is generally a distinct lack of representation from the lesbian, gender-queer, cisgender and creative communities who also call Karangahape home.

That said, part of exploring what it means to be associated with a place is also acknowledging that there will always be power dynamics in whose voices are heard and represented. This show is not exempt from that, but fittingly its creative decisions speak to this reality.

This is the power and the vulnerability of K Road Strip as a whole: It is an artistic expression of not just inclusion but also exclusion. In a way the direction consequently references an undeniable truth that many of us have been giving thought recently - we are not one equal LGBTQIA community, and to suggest that we are would give more credit than due.

So as an audience, we were challenged through the show to not just celebrate the uniqueness of the street but to recognize its divisions and darker sides.

Given this reality, the show left me thinking that perhaps all we as a community share is a place to stand on K Road; a piece of land that everyone has some claim to. And if that is something that can be embraced and celebrated through the power of drag and haka alike, then it’s an identity I for one feel proud to be part of.

Originally published on GayNZ.com, July 2015