Everybody talks about weather – we don’t: Pussy Riot review

Pussy Riot

Like a surprise pop quiz on the German I’ve learnt since arriving in Berlin, Pussy Riot Theatre threw at me only German subtitles, backing strong, chant-like Russian spoken word.

Nevertheless, I appreciate the story being told and get a gist (not necessarily the gist) of it from the expressive performance. The accompanying video offers a powerful tribute to the revolutionaries who make up Pussy Riot.

Maria ‘Masha’ Alyokhina, one of the Pussy Riot members arrested and imprisoned for artistic protest in 2012, accompanies Kyril Masheka and musicians Nastya and Max from Asian Women On The Telephone. The story’s primary protest is against Putin, whose face litters the visual backdrop.

Alyokhina and Masheka maintain intent gazes across the audience as they deliver their steadfast message. Male stripper-like, Masheka breaks out of his trance and emerges to the front of stage, gyrating and shaking while licking his lips and smiling cheekily. He begins rapping, delivering sharp, presumably apt verse in Russian.

‘Russia will be free!’, Masheka and Alyokhina pronounce with a sly smile and a serious gaze.

‘Russia will be free!’, Masheka and Alyokhina pronounce with a sly smile and a serious gaze. Their offbeat eccentricity emerges amongst their serious proclamations, as the semi-naked electronic musician punches a militant fist forward and the saxophonist breaks into operatic vocals. The electronic sound and its distortion adds an important aesthetic.

Footage of snow-covered flagstone being sharply crossed by Russian militants features in the background: suddenly the percussionist has stripped to his underwear (when did that happen?). Amid all seriousness of the performance, a well-timed sense of humour continuously peeps through, like in the comical dance moves of waxy-bodied Masheka juxtaposed with excerpts of Putin footage.

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The saxophonist salutes as she delivers barking orders — while my German is bad and my Russian nonexistent, it’s clear that soldier hysteria is being conveyed. The serious, propaganda-like footage of the Russian military continues, highlighting the parody that they are.

The corrupt Russian media system is depicted onscreen, with excerpts of an anchorman on the evening news.

The corrupt Russian media system is depicted onscreen, with excerpts of an anchorman on the evening news. Through an exaggeratedly pinched nose, Masheka mimicks the newsreader, pushing his contempt home with a flourish as he brushes excess snot from his nose onto the crowd.

Part rap, part farce, distinctively unlike those delivered by other cultures; this performance invites us to wonder what limitations are involved in being an artist or a woman under the Putin government.

Punctuated with English headlines ‘no one is supposed to know what is happening’ the performance is dynamic and moving, offering a Russian perspective that doesn’t often make its way into the Western mediascape. ‘Cripples are strong’, ‘Everybody talks about weather – we don’t’, ‘Achtung, religion’. The point they make is that life in Russia is oppressive.

‘Welcome to hell!!!’

‘The show must go on’ echoes in the background, the tempo increasing to a sped-up rhythm. Their story has now reached the chapter where Alyokhina and her two accomplices are imprisoned for two years, barring them from spreading the message of feminism and separation of religion from state. This post-trial ordeal is reinforced with footage of a Russian Orthodox Priest, accompanied by English headline ‘Welcome to hell!!!’

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So much of the story being told remains a mystery to me. I decipher what I can, but the language barriers leave me making wild guesses a lot of the time. In saying that, it’s possible that the German-speaking and Russian-speaking audiences are as perplexed as I am – this is art after all, and nothing needs to be fully explained. I interpret as I will, and still find the performance powerful and insightful.

The lights go down and Alyokhina lights herself a cigarette, dancing behind the saxophonist who strolls around the stage. While at first, it’s hard to imagine this petite woman in a Russian prison, her husky voice and uncompromising air reinforce her strength.

At this point, it’s impossible to deny the badass of this group of Russians.

The tiny but commanding woman, donning a hood and dark shades, paces up and down the front of the stage, lecturing the audience through rap. At this point, it’s impossible to deny the badass of this group of Russians. The forceful staccato with which they deliver their language, the unflinching gaze, and even the indefinable sexiness of their demeanour, all signify what they spend their lives asserting.

After a string of wandering operatic wolf howls and a clashing organ, ‘FIVE FOOT THREE’ crosses the screen, accompanied by Alyokhina’s fierce delivery on physical stature vs. her resolution to overthrow the dictator Putin.

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All parts of the physical performance are made so much more powerful by the music delivered by the multi-instrumentalist in his undies. At times odd but mostly compelling, the performance climaxes with Masheka, Alyokhina and the saxophonist leaping around the stage in complete freestyle dance, culminating with Masheka sticking his hands down his pants for the remainder of the track. This is possibly a comment on the suppressed state of sexual expression, but I really can’t be sure.

The audience is shocked out of mere spectatorship when a million water bottles are emptied upon us by Masheka

The audience is shocked out of mere spectatorship when a million water bottles are emptied upon us by Masheka and then pegged rather brutally across the crowd. Another random but not entirely ineffective aspect of the performance, keeping the audience on their toes.

Pronouncing ‘Freedom to political prisoners!’ between drags of cigarettes, the performers bow their heads and dance their way offstage. I’m left with a stark impression and a determination to find out more about Pussy Riot and their motivations.

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