REVIEW: OurGala 2020 (Auckland Pride)

Review by Maulik Thakkar

[Inclusive we are and inclusionary we will be]

It is a delight to attend Auckland’s Pride Gala, marking the opening of the festival in its eighth edition, and offering a glimpse into the marvels on offer in this year’s programme. Our effusive host, Hugo Grrrl, welcomes a packed audience to the scheduled treats.  The headlines declare “a bigger, brighter and bolder inauguration than ever before”, and director Freya Finch delivers manifold on that promise.

From Sarita Das rapping an original piece as a backdrop to their solo show, Perfect Shade, to jaw-dropping cabaret performances by COVEN and Ms Wednesday Blaiselle (Blaise Clotworthy) advertising Everybody Interesting Is Gay by bursting into song, as well as a gripping spectacles by the Night of the Queer troupe, the evening is made brighter by the announcement that 75% of all Pride events this year are offered at no cost to the public. 

I find the interludes between acts to be the most compelling, as five anachronistically-dressed clowns (Murdoch Keane, Conan Hayes, Katrina George, Amanda Tito, Frankie Berge) captivate the audience’s imaginations while performing absurd exercises in mime – the thread that binds the show together.

Rachel Marlow’s eye-popping lighting design elevates the audience’s experience of this extravaganza. In particular, lighting effects illuminate and elevate the unconventional use of a dining table set with fruit in Das’ engrossing rap performance, piquing the audience’s curiosity about the words and simultaneously dislodging our initial impressions with practiced ease. All performances are rounded out by Khalid Parkar’s exceptional sound design and operation, rendering the audience hypnotised by the multisensory experience.

There is an abundance of talent onstage tonight, with particular emphasis on trans inclusion, a long overdue shift in the history of Pride in Tāmaki Makaurau. Being spoiled for choice ought not to mean opting for misuse or misappropriation of privilege, although this is not mentioned by the host tonight. As the trans community flag is unfurled onstage, it is a joy to see an evenly-balanced representation among trans, Pākehā, POC, and genderdiverse artists showcased tonight. 

We are treated to a glimpse of the Same Same but Different Writers Festival through vignettes from the symposium’s highlights, Samuel Te Kani and Nathan Joe – a unique opportunity to explore literary themes through the eyes of local and international literary creatives. Both writers present very different insights into the thoughts of cisgender queer men, but are provocative conversation-starters nonetheless about privilege and the power of language.

Whaea & The Rumble bring us a glimpse of the neglected, oppressed and unheard among the voices of Te Ao Māori through a powerful spoken-word performance. At times, the background music jars me and takes the focus away from the strength of emotion in the words, but the immersive after-taste of hearing the words lingers and resonates long after the evening comes to a close.

I am left gasping for breath after watching the sublime choreography of stupefying contortion after contortion from Carnies and Queers at The Dust Palace. It comes across as a marvel that the flexibility of the human body is explored with such soulful intimacy in every twist and bend, suspended aloft from the stage surface. 

Lipsynched performances include Vanessa LaRoux and Medulla Oblongata – and these are iconic in their own right. Resilience and patience in the face of adversity shine through in these works of art, reflecting a confident flair in drag as an established force for self expression. I find this confidence is complemented by the extraordinarily profound movement sequences designed by COVEN to open and close the evening.

It is awe-inspiring to leave Rangatira with a positive outlook on realising inclusivity at the close of the evening. OurGala 2020 is a tribute to the LGBTQIA+ community providing platforms for each constituent’s story, and a memorable symbol of the succession to a long-fought battle against heteronormative tokenism. I leave the venue impressed by the incredible skill-set of each performer tonight, and look forward to what each show will bring to the conversation around endurance and perseverance in the days ahead.

OurGala played at Q Theatre on 1 February. Auckland Pride runs until 16 February. 

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