Riot Days | Pussy Riot Theatre


Riot Days | Pussy Riot TheatreFive years ago three young women danced a punk prayer in a Moscow cathedral dressed in brightly coloured frocks and balaclavas, a brilliant juxtaposition of femininity and menace. Sick of gender inequality, corruption, lies and “the endless, groundless promises of a happy life” they danced, and were arrested and jailed for two years for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”.

The story of Pussy Riot is now quite well known – from the press coverage, from journalist Masha Gessen’s brilliant book Words Will Break Cement, and the documentary Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer. But not yet have we heard it from the mouth of a Pussy Riot member herself, in a primal, revolutionary new electronic punk opera that made its Australian premiere in Melbourne last week.

The adoring fan anticipation was palpable in the State Theatre on the second night of Supersense, and while there may have been an inkling of concern that a pussy riot opera might be contrived with artiness, none of those concerns were justified.

Flanked by a DJ pumping out an industrial, trip-hoppy soundtrack and occasional live drums, a steely-looking saxophone player with a shaved head and a sinewy, writhing  bear-chested male performer, Maria Alyokhina recounted the brave, absurd and barbaric story.
 
When the dread of capture drove her from her home, she left her four year old son watching cartoons. She said she’d be back in a few moments, and returned after two years of misery in a dirty freezing cell in the wilderness of the Ural mountains.

The feisty, rapid fire opera featured no singing – apart from occasional unexpected bursts in a minor key from the saxophonist – but staccato spoken word/chanting of a libretto which was taken straight from Alyokhina’s new book Riot Days, due to hit shelves in 3 weeks. It was mesmerising to hear the story in Russian with subtitles overlaid on a big screen which showed original footage of events and places, although once or twice the chants came so fast that it was hard to keep up with the subtitles.

Alyokhina’s writing is powerful, humorous and evocative: “Riot is always a thing of beauty… if you start your schoolwork on the first page and do your sketches in the back, sooner or later the two will meet in the middle. And next to your history notes, graffiti appears. Which turns history into a different story.”

What these women fought for, and are still fighting for – Alyokhina was in prison for protesting the treatment of political prisoners the week before she was due in Melbourne for the show – should be taught in every high school history class the world over. That freedom does not exist unless you fight for it every day. That action breaks fear. That just because authority says it must be so, does not make it so. Passion, revolution, and bold-ass rebellion – all these things the audience inhaled deeply, lighting a fire in their bellies and driving them out of their seats for a standing ovation.


2017 Supersense Festival
RIOT DAYS
Pussy Riot Theatre

Venue: Arts Centre Melbourne | 100 St Kilda Road VIC
Date: 19 August 2017
Tickets: $69
Info: supersense.artscentremelbourne.com.au




  

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