The street where you live

By Raewyn Whyte

Auckland street's notoriety brought to life in dance. Raewyn Whyte reports.

The 'K Rd Strip' team of performers. Photo / Supplied
The 'K Rd Strip' team of performers. Photo / Supplied

Audiences throughout the country will experience slices of life from Auckland's famous Karangahape Rd during Matariki, thanks to Okareka Dance Company's touring show K Rd Strip.

A richly evocative cabaret show presented by six extraordinary performers, K Rd Strip celebrates the spirit and diversity of Karangahape Rd through song and dance, pole dancing, dramatic scenes, haka and waiata.

Lying along the top of a ridge between Ponsonby and Grafton, Karangahape Rd (better known as K Rd) was once a prime shopping district with large department stores and trendy boutiques. It is now home by day to op shops, fringe fashion and music shops, cafes and restaurants, office buildings and art galleries.

But it is probably best known for its nightlife, the extraordinary sights and sounds to be experienced until dawn or later in its many bars and nightclubs, strip shows, drag shows, and the red-light district operating in streets nearby.

K Rd is where everyday life of a more ordinary kind continues throughout the day, with dairies and chemists, teenagers passing through on their way to and from school, and people waiting at bus stops. It has a long history too, dating back to the arrival of the Tainui waka on the shores of Waitemata Harbour, where it was greeted by the karanga of a relative, Hape, standing on the ridge where Karangahape Rd now sits.

Okareka Dance Company directors Taane Mete and Taiaroa Royal have been planning a show about K Rd since 1997 when they were backing Mika at the Edinburgh Festival.

"During our performances in Edinburgh," says Mete, "we discovered that audiences are hungry for high quality cabaret and drag performance. We had performed several times with Mika, and we decided we should develop a show of our own. We wanted to keep exploring some of the transformative aspects of drag, but also to include a lot more dancing than you normally get in cabaret shows."

"K Rd has been a significant place for both of us," adds Royal. "It's a really vibrant place for entertainment and hanging out, and it's a gathering place for queer performers. I've performed here many times, on the street as well as in clubs and bars.

" It's a place where you are free to explore your identity, and it can also be a safe haven. And there's a constant stream of people coming and going, passing through."

"I was drawn to K Rd in the early 90s when I first moved to Auckland as a budding dancer," says Mete. "I was fascinated by the mix of cultures and the fashion sense of the day, the glamorous drag queens, and the way young gay men had made it the place to hang out. When I was developing my drag persona, Kornisha, I learned a heap by watching the experienced drag queens."

The multi-talented cast assembled for Okareka's K Rd Strip all have experience in cabaret and drag performance, and can sing and dance well enough to pass as a slick ensemble. Mete and Royal are senior contemporary dancers with stellar careers, including the hugely successful productions, Tama Ma and Nga Hau e Wha.

All the songs are New Zealand-made, with tracks from Gin Wigmore, Mi-Sex, Annie Crummer and Th'Dudes. Some songs are sung a capella, or a radically different treatment of the music provides a very different mood from the original. Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper is assisting with musical arrangements.

Lighting has been designed by Ambrose Hills-Simonson, costumes by Elizabeth Whiting, and make-up design is by Wendy Hill.


Performance

What: Okareka Dance Company: K Rd Strip: A Place to Stand (Turangawaewae)

Where and when: Q Theatre Loft, June 11-15, (R18 adult themes)

What: Matariki Under the Stars Tour

Where and when: Mangere Arts Centre, June 19-22; Regent Theatre, Dunedin, June 28-29; Playhouse Theatre, Hamilton, July 2-3; Centennial Drive Auditorium, Palmerston North, July 6; Downstage Theatre, Wellington, July 10-13

- NZ Herald

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