Pussy Riot Theater At The Fonda Theater, Sunday March 12th 2017

Written by | March 14, 2017 5:03 | one response

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Maria ‘Masha’ Alyokhina

 

There are two types of people, people who say ‘it’s fate’ and people who say ‘there is no such thing as fate, there is however, choice’, a quote I remember from Pussy Riot’s show, which echoes Joe Strummer’s ‘The future is unwritten’… These people are the punks, the rebels, who chose not to obey or conform, the ones who stand against oppression and authoritarian power. There are only a few left, and it’s up to us to join them.

May be that was the message Pussy Riot gave us on Sunday night during an intense and powerful show at the Fonda theater, we are all Pussy Riot, and we can join the movement. The show was announced as ‘Pussy Riot Theater’, and I didn’t know what to expect exactly, and the result was more surprising than I had imagined.

If you read this, you probably know Pussy Riot’s story, the Russian feminist protest punk rock was arrested after a guerilla performance inside Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior in 2012, and three of the group members, Nadya Tolokonnokova, Maria ‘Masha’ Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevitch were sentenced to two years of imprisonment. Samutsevitch was freed but the two other women served 21 months, and were released on December 23, 2013 after their case attracted a lot of international attention. Pussy Riot doesn’t exist as a group anymore, the group dissolved when they were arrested, but the movement continues and takes all kind of reincarnations. If there was no trace of Nadya last night, Maria was leading the show, during the world premiere of a new theatrical piece ‘Revolution’, based on a forthcoming book she wrote, and called ‘I Felt Free’. She is telling her story, her experience with Pussy Riot, starting from their legendary protest punk actions in balaclavas, to their arrest, their detention in a Moscow jail, the police investigation and the trial, and finally the exile in a remote penal colony.

They got in stage in a guerrilla style, climbing the stage in the front, splitting the crowd. Maria wearing a pink balaclava and a black dress and matching running shoes, told us her story (or shouted I should say) in Russian with the help of two other actors, the amazing Kiryl Kanstantsinau and Nastya of AWOTT (Asian Women On The Telephone), and VJ Vasily Bogatov. The shouting/spoken words, about dangers of oppression, censorship, propaganda and solitary confinement, is accompanied with incessant electronic beats, it becomes a percussive narration, hypnotic and anxious interrupted by an occasional dissonant saxophone. The atmosphere was menacing even paranoid from start to finish, and even if they were screaming the whole thing in Russian, the audience was completely captivated during the entire play. Some video footage of the actual Pussy Riot movement by Taisia Krugovykh and video art by Katya Scheglova projected on a screen behind the actors, were helping follow the story, but the language barrier was never a problem, as the pulsating rhythm of the entire play worked better than any words,

However, words are important and an English translation of some of what they were saying – it couldn’t possibly be the whole thing as they were speaking fast and often at the top of each other – was also projected at the top of the screen. I was trying to follow their stage movements, the visuals behind them, the subtitles (and trying to take a few pics at the same time) but it was impossible to follow everything, and this overwhelming feeling was going side by side with the paranoid vibe of the whole production. After a while, I had given up breaking my neck to read the subtitles behind Maria’s head, and it didn’t really matter, the beat was there to immerse the audience in Pussy Riot’s terrible and brave journey.

Each chapter of the story is depicted with a real minimalism, only a few accessories such as masks, glasses and hoodies, are used during the show, but the intensity of the narration punches you in the gut. Most of the time, the three of them stand behind their mics, while shouting their parts as if they were trying to save their life during a Kafka-esque trial, fists are raised, everything is shouted in present tense, we are living in the moment. Then you see degrading strip searches, hear the pain of isolation and incarceration, with a sad sax and high-pitched screeches, then things become agitated, there are struggles, fights, and in a very participatory moment, entire water bottles are poured over the audience heads.

At the beginning, they had invited the audience to participate if they felt like it, but the Fonda theater had installed rows of chairs, probably buying this ‘theater’ part a bit more than Pussy Riot would have thought. However, a girl wearing a ‘search and destroy’ hoodie took the initiative to get to the stage and everyone follow, standing up during the whole time, making the performance closer to a punk show.

You may remember the ‘Make America Great Again’ video that Pussy Riot released a few months ago and staring Nadya Tolokonnokova. The visual of this new show has little to do with this clip, it’s more artsy and based on theatrical to improvised performance, it’s raw and it’s an immersing experience but before anything else it is a protest story, a journey about the courage to protest against tyranny, and it is still difficult to realize that Maria was only 23 when she and the other riot girls were arrested.

One thing is sure, If Putin is at the core of the story and his dark shadow constantly in the visuals in the back of the stage, the American audience will (based on what I saw last night) have somebody else in mind during the whole show. When you see sentences like these projected on the screen, ‘Show the freedom of civic anger’, ‘You don’t represent me’, it’s difficult not to think about Trump if you live in the US in 2017, and the play offers unavoidable parallels. The connection is so simple that a few women even showed up wearing the pink Pussy hat they were wearing at this last women’s march against trump, while producer Alexandrer Cheparukhin told us after the show that the project’s director, Yury Muravitsky, was unable to get a visa to travel to the US. ‘Fuck Trump’ I heard coming from the crowd.

‘The United States are a country of refugees, you have to go back to your history’, told us Maria after the show during a Q&A. And if Trump hasn’t sent any female protesters in the American Gulag yet, this pussy-grabber-in-chief should watch his back, and always remember that these Russian feminists were the first ones to bring back the term pussy in collective consciousness.

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