K Road comes to Wellington

Along with Queen St and Ponsonby Rd, Karangahape Rd is one of the few stretches of Auckland that non-Aucklanders have explored or heard of.

Most people know it today for its bustling shops, cafes, clubs and decades-long reputation as a red-light district and magnet for drag queens and the gay community. But what became “K Road” was important for centuries. It included being an early route for Maori to the Manukau Heads.

Many facets of the road’s history and importance to many people are captured in the ambitious dance show K’Rd Strip – A Place to Stand, opening at Wellington’s Downstage tonight.

The show is the creation of Auckland-based Okareka Dance Company, headed by Taiaroa Royal and Taane Mete, long rated as two of the country’s best dancers.

In 2011 they performed Nga Hau E Wha, which was steeped in Maori legend, in Wellington.

Mete says the idea for a show centred on the K Rd district had been banging around in his head for five years. “From those original thoughts it was really the process of how does one bring this altogether,” he says.

Mete also has a strong personal connection. As a budding dancer in the early 90s, he was drawn to K Rd. It helped him develop his drag persona Kornisha and, while his reputation as a top contemporary dancer grew, from 2003 he performed in K Rd venues.

“It was basically my home for years … I worked at different bars but I also would go nightclubbing and get inspiration from other performers. I did focus a lot of my energy towards K Rd. Friends and work was there and it all paid off.”

Mete says his experiences on K Rd helped him focus on the direction he wanted to take as an individual and a dancer. K Rd changed his life, he says. “It was a place where I got a lot of understanding about who I actually was. I felt like I belonged, but to a very different family. That family helped me bring the fabric of my creative world together.”

In creating the work, Mete’s company even called out for the public to give their own stories about K Rd, which were then used as inspiration for building the show.

To convey the history and the many stories, the performers, who include Mete, Royal and company dancers Jamie Burgess, Adam Burell, Will Barling and Jason Te Mete, use a mix of styles and approaches. It ranges from haka to pole dancing, as well as dramatised scenes and music. There are songs from Kiwi acts Gin Wigmore, Mi-Sex, Th’Dudes and Annie Crummer. Crummer’s songs are pre-recorded, but the dancers will sing along to the music by Wigmore and the bands.

Okareka Dance Company has performed overseas, and Mete says that while K’Rd Strip – A Place to Stand is about a very New Zealand place, there’s already interest for it to tour overseas. Partly, this is because every city has its own K Rd, he says, but also because from the beginning, the company consciously wanted the show to have broad appeal. “We already have our dance followers. The thinking that we had was ‘how do we draw in new viewers to our work’ I believe that we’ve managed to do that.”

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K’Rd Strip – A Place to Stand (Turangawaewae), Downstage, Wellington, tonight until Saturday, 8pm.