Review Scene: Pussy Riot Theatre – Riot Days, SUPERSENSE, Arts Centre Melbourne – Saturday 19th August 2017

Supersense was metamorphic. The contemporary performing arts festival, created and presented by Arts Centre Melbourne in association with curator and performer Sophia Brous, promised various ecstatic states of exposure and superiority, and it delivered these – without the usual exclusivity that sometimes accompanies this type of event. Supersense was an immersive three days of ethereal engagement. Complete immersion allowed one to really appreciate passion, beauty and true human endeavour, the ultimate for me being Pussy Riot Theatre – Riot Days.

In this day and age of short attention spans, Pussy Riot Theatre – Riot Days held me captive, and at times, made me forget to breathe. The hour-long production was gripping and mesmerising. It was based on Maria (Masha) Alyokhina‘s story, as a member of the Russian feminist punk group, Pussy Riot, who performed, without permission, in a Moscow cathedral in 2012. This act saw Alyokhina along with two more group members convicted and imprisoned for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”. As portrayed through sound, lyrics and visuals, the group insisted that the spectacle was intended as a criticism of the Orthodox Church’s support of Vladimir Putin, whom they consider a dictator. The account of the day – the fear, the self-prompting to “act like ordinary girls”, the 40 seconds of music with “chicks dancing in the church” – was juxtaposed with real film footage and photographs.

The aftermath, the pleas to herself to “Run Masha, Run Masha”, accompanied by heavy drum beats, fell into pace with the heartbeats of the audience. We were transported to Alyokhina’s “hell” where she intoned “every night I would dream I ran but I still wake up in prison”. With a minimalist drum set and DJ style table to the side of the stage, and three microphones, the performers expressed Riot Days through solid pounding beats, a saxophone, powerfully emotive words chanted in Russian, as the visuals and the English subtitles played on the screen behind them. Many instances hauled the audience into Alyokhina’s world, another powerful moment being where she was compelled around the stage, in a foreboding march, with a hood pulled tightly over her head.

 

The whole saga of Riot Days is not over. Alyokhina feels it’s more of a manifesto, a philosophy of life, rather than a documentary that has been completed. Since her 2013 release, Alyokhina has kept up her activism. In fact, just days before she boarded the plane to Australia, she held a protest, alongside Pussy Riot member Olga Borisova, against the imprisonment of Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who, in 2015, was sentenced to 20 years in a remote Siberian penal colony.

Alyokhina’s story, is a twisted fairytale; recognition gained as the Pussy Riot members’ trial and imprisonment played out against an international backdrop of political and artistic furore. This outrage continues today as political imprisonment is still happening. Pussy Riot’s message is clear as Alyokhina states: “It’s our story, but it could happen anywhere, to anyone.” At Supersense, Pussy Riot Theatre – Riot Days finished with the stage shrouded in darkness, one pertinent question remaining on the screen: “Are you (free)?” The audience answered with a deafening silence, followed by rapturous applause and a standing ovation.

There are no spoilers here; Pussy Riot’s story was in the headlines and most know what happened … on paper. On paper, however, it is difficult to capture the passion and heroism of the participants. On stage, in person, you are their prisoner, captive to the sheer magnitude of their act, then now and always, Pussy Riot.

*Maria (Masha) Alyokhina’s Book, Riot Days, is out now.

About Mary Boukouvalas 675 Articles

Mary is a music photographer and reviewer.

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