Image by: SomeBizarreMonkey
Concert Reviews

Concert Review: Pussy Riot: Riot Days Launch Full On Assault During Auckland Fringe Show

Where: Auckland Town Hall, NZ
When: 22 Feb 2019
Kate Powell

Every so often, you will come across a performance, an image, a sound that will reaffirm the power of art. The multi-disciple performance Riot Days by Pussy Riot at the Auckland Fringe Festival in the Auckland Town Hall last night did just that.

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Activist and Producer, Alexander Cheparukhin

Their music may be discordant, their message deeply politicised, but don’t call Pussy Riot a punk band. Following in the footsteps of the European art movement Dada in the early 20th century, Pussy Riot is a protest art collective that merges visual, performance and sound art inherently created to provoke, destroy and rebuild. By destroying the artistic and societal conventions of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, they are raising the middle finger to the disintegration of free speech and human rights.

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Pussy Riot is a protest art collective that merges visual, performance and sound art inherently created to provoke, destroy and rebuild...

Bearing this in mind, it would be unfair to review Riot Days as a standard punk show. To do so would only capture a portion of the performance. Riot Days is an adaption of founding member Maria Alyokhina’s memoir-slash-manifesto of the same name. In its pages, she outlines Pussy Riot’s storming of a Moscow Cathedral, their subsequent convictions of "hooliganism based on religious hatred" and Alyokhina’s harrowing16 month imprisonment in a Siberian penal colony. This was adapted for the stage by breaking the book down into a series of acts.

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Maria Alyokhina

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There’s an adage that the best way to expose injustice is to shine a light on darkness. So Riot Days was never going to be an easy watch. But to hope for otherwise would-be completely missing the point, not to mention diluting the potency of its message. It was created to assault the senses, to promote human rights, to highlight corruption in Russia’s legal and judicial purposes and give audiences a sense of how fragile and precious safety is.

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Everyone can be Pussy Riot

The stage show was a fully immersive experience where the audience were inducted into Pussy Riot as Alyokhina stood, arms akimbo staring down the crowd before raising her fists, screaming “Everyone can be Pussy Riot” in her mother tongue, subtitles flashing up on the screen behind her.

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Water thrown violently over the audience towards the end of their set seemed to complete the baptism.

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The quintuplet deftly merged electronica, noise punk, Ethiojazz archival footage of their protests and court hearings. Alyokhina’s elegantly profane turns of phrase and jagged dance moves told of a reality that was anything but pretty. It bristled with relentlessly defiant determination and bravery – both artistically and ideologically - a timely reminder of the power of art at its most exhilarating and most urgent, making it an absolute privilege to be a part of.

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But there were some surprising moments that tempered its ferocity to give the show flashes of bitingly bleak satire. Fist raising slogans such as “freedom exists every day if you fight for it” was tempered with absurdist observations of the situation Pussy Riot found themselves in. Agents spying on them gave themselves away due to wearing “pointy-toed shoes – that’s their idea of fashion.” While Alyokhina’s assertion that she refused to partake in a cavity search upon entering prison because “if you show them your backside, you’ll be bending over for the rest of your life” elicited a mixture of cheers and laughter from the audience.

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It’s interesting to note that Alyokhina only received her visa to come to New Zealand the day before she was due to fly here and in a case of art reflecting life, it neatly tied into the conclusion of the show where Alyokhina suggests that it doesn’t matter where she is in the world or what her prisoner status is – as long as she is dedicated to her political cause and independent thought, she remains free.

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As the lights dim then flare up again, two words flash across the screen: Are You?

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Unsanitary Napkin

Thanks must be given to Auckland Fringe Festival for bringing such a pertinent creative force to New Zealand, and also to Unsanitary Napkin, one of the most compelling local punk bands in years. This reviewer has long been a fan, and last nights opening set by them was no exception – their ferocity and prowess remain as tight as ever.

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Radio 13 thanks and credits Reuben Raj from SomeBizarreMonkey Photography for all the images featured on this article.

Written By: Kate Powell