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Review: Pride Gala and Mika's Mardi Gras

Sat 8 Feb 2014 In: Performance View at NDHA

The Dust Palace In a packed downtown Q Theatre last night performers from a variety of shows featuring in the Auckland Pride Festival strutted their often remarkable talents. The Auckland Pride Gala opening show, subtitled Le Jeu Mechant - The Wicked Game, was the official launch, but the previous night the wicked Mika slipped in his own launch sampler, Mika's Aroha Mardi Gras (no subtitle), based on Festival events in which he has a hand. Both shows were very different in character even though they featured some of the same performers. Aroha Mardi Gras was informal, low rent, boisterous and there was a sense of risks being taken, talent being developed and explored. The Pride Gala was black tie, slick and professional with some of the cream of the performers showing stunning skills. It was more introspective, less rambunctious, slicker and no-one lost their footing in tottering heels and did a plunging faceplant into the catwalk! Both were highly enjoyable. Let's have a look at the Gala first. The obligatory speechifying and thank you-ing was always going to be a weighty start but without sponsors and commitment and contributions the Pride Festival would never happen so we sat through the speeches in stoic gratitude. Then Ali Mau, she of the lustrous locks, dazzling smile, slinky gown and throw-away quips, appeared as the perfect MC. Entertaining, oozing celebrity and perfectly bridging the gap between performers and audience. Dancers from Mary Jane O'Reilly's In Flagrante show presented a hyper-modern take on titillation and erotica, stripped down to its (and their) bare essentials. It was slick and synchronised, somehow successfully blending unattainable erotica and beauty with mechanical and constrained moves. Burlesque for the i-generation. Jaycee Tanuvasa wowed the crowd with her take on being faafafine at school and had everyone singing along with her oh so wicked send-up of Lorde ("...never gonna be a real girl..."). There was a hint of emerging star power here. Bryony Skillington GALS, the Gay and Lesbian Singers, have never quite made friends with Q Theatre, their natural home is an acoustically bright school or community hall, but their two numbers hinted at what they can do and the evocation with finger clicks and thigh slaps of a passing thunder and rainstorm preceding Africa was a stunner. Bryony Skillington, all Rubeneqsue curves and in your face insouciance, was the next crowd-pleaser. Her Lola was a woman not to be ignored or denied. Luscious and with the 'fuck that!' attitude of a Glasgow ship welder she blended a beautiful singing voice with bigger than life stage presence and a tonne of attitude. Her show must be a must-see, but perhaps throw down a straight scotch before taking your seat. Then, slowly tumbling out of the darkened heights of the theatre, Edward Clendon of circus troupe The Dust Palace mesmerised us with his aerial acrobatics and contortions. Without a safety net or wire he presented the sort of power, control and daring that only OSH could suck the life out of. Thankfully their presence was nowhere to be seen and we were left to hold our breath and glory in his gymnastic skill. Even his final ascent back up to the girders was a wonder. Jaycee as Lorde Actor Edwin Beats took us into that moment when two incompatible worlds overlap to enable a closeted at home teenage son of a religious family to furtively slip into his queenly otherlife. In an excerpt from Queen he crowed with a touch of bravado that he was luckier than us queens in the audience because he has two lives rather than one. It was a simple, understated performance and you couldn't help hoping his two worlds won't crash into each other as they too often do for too many glbti kids. When you want a lesbian with a guitar and a song (and whoever heard of a gay man entertaining with a guitar and his own song???) then Charlotte Yates is the one to have. Confident, poised, musically accomplished and vocally rich, Yates gave yummy taste of what we might hear in her show tonight and tomorrow on the big Big Gay Out stage. Don't miss her! Kita Mean, all neon orange bouffant and super-sized white fake-fur coat, stole the vocals of Julie Andrews and Catherine Zeta-Jones then added her own boisterous presence to Le Jazz Hot and All That Jazz. Elements of Queen Latifah and Jessica Rabbit were blended into a sequin-flashing force of nature, a magnificently sassy, self-centred and lustful drag performance. Dust Palace returned with two sweetly sexy women entwined in one chair and each other high above the stage in a sultry show for the girls to match the earlier aerial display for the boys. We now know it is possible to fall in love while suspended in space. Short snippets from The Legacy Project, the on-stage realisation of short contributed works, returned us to the introspective mood which flavoured the Gala, itself a reflection of the youthfulness of many of the contributors and performers. The redoubtable Edwina Thorne once again made the trumpet classy and sexy, then Finn Matheson, the angelic young flower boy for the evening, showed his harder side by charmingly beating the crap out his mother live on stage (You had to be there!). Well done Finn and get well Cushla! Andrew Laing made us all want to go see Songs for Guy. His evocation of falling in love with a house painter followed by Charles Aznavour's She, poignantly re-worked as He, were intimate and loungey and quite lovely. Wow, can this man deliver a song! Andrew Laing The unidentified singer amongst the performers from Mumbai Monologues sang in a ghostly, plaintive tone that I still can't properly describe. Something about her soaring but hushed clarity evoked ghosts or angels or... something that speaks straight to your head and your heart even if you don't understand the word. Magical. Dynamotion filled the stage with colour and vitality and the finale, with full cast and more than a few audience members doing The Time Warp, acknowledging the 'Time' theme for the up-coming Pride Parade, closed a great night. Directed by Lexie Matheson with a sure and expert hand, this was a stylish formal introduction to the glories of Pride 2014. Much, much less formal, Mika's Aroha Mardi Gras on Thursday night blended Pakeha, Maori and Pacifica cultures and highlighted emerging performers being nurtured by the Mika Haka Foundation. As such it contained some hits and some misses, but in the intimate environment of Legend bar everything was lapped up. Mattie sings a song of love Highlights included Jaycee Tanuvasa's fafa Lorde, the remarkable and snappy hip hop moves of the O'Neill twins channelling Michael Jackson and, even if they don't know it, Judy Garland's trilby and tux performances. Singer Vee combined sensual and elegant beauty with a magnificent voice, and the wonderful Megan Alatini just managed to hold her own in a duet with the irrepressible Mika. This was good, dynamic stuff. Teen Faggots, a Mika-nurtured group of multi-talented youth, many but not all glbti, danced, sang, rapped and strutted, co-MC Yaya slipped a heel and plunged to the ground mid-number but recovered with class and just enough elegance that we loved her for it. Actually, we loved them all. Lilly Loca's Burlesque Salon was fabulous as usual... this is Moulin Rouge-standard stuff. And Mattie's simple song of tender love and commitment, of the completeness of two men joined in total harmony, was made all the more poignant by his dedicating it to his unseen partner in the audience and the simple self-accompaniment on a ukulele (which is not a guitar - see above!). The final number, Mika's debut of his new Dress to Express, has Dance Floor Hit written all over it. If it doesn't have a star turn at the Proud Party I'll be having very angry words with the party's producer! - Jay Bennie Jay Bennie - 8th February 2014    

Credit: Jay Bennie

First published: Saturday, 8th February 2014 - 10:10am

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