OKPK w/Broken Rhythms and HYENAZ @ Pretty Good Not Bad Festival 6/18/2016

Night melted into day, and day to night and suddenly it was June 18th and the second evening of Victoria BC’s Pretty Good Not Bad Festival. I went and caught two sets, OKPK w/Broken Rhythms Dance Co and HYENAZ at Studio Robazzo, a new-ish graphics and branding business in town, which has also been building a solid reputation for itself in housing events for Victoria’s performing arts communities.

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Sheltering into the stairwell connecting Robazzo’s floor stage to the upper-loft, I got cozy with my  neighbors as local producer OKPK took stage-right, and a trio of dancers donning electric blue wigs struck poses in the dim light.  Lurking in the shadows behind them, I glimpsed the silhouettes of what appeared to be kiddie-pools.  The opening track from Pleasure Seekers, OKPK’s forthcoming EP, propelled the spectacle into motion.  Limbs unfurled beneath a yellowy-red spotlight, as inky shadows spilled across each dancer.  The initial minutes comprised of a dialing-in of facial expressions and staggered release of audible sighs, as if each dancer were awaking inside the their bodies for the very first time.  And the energy soon escalated.  Wigs abandoned, spatial manipulation expanding to include leaps and bounds, and even horizontal floor feats.  Though emotionally charged, an enduring feeling of alien-ness permeated the performances entirety and this was no doubt brought on by OKPK’s percussive polyrhythms and gorgeous space-church synths.  The inherent nature of his sound was then reciprocated through the choreography’s focus on symmetry and patterning.  It really was a perfect symbiosis between movement and sound, so in sync and complimentary that the notion these two compositions had been conceived of separately seemed preposterous.  The mysterious blue kiddie-pools inevitably made their geometrical contributions towards the end.  Used as props for spinning, then as shields, and finally as their design might suggest, water vessels from which the dancers drenched themselves in final expressions of space-age ecstasy.

One of the most reinforcing moments a producer can have, I think, is seeing a group of people groove to their tunes, so I can only imagine the thrill and satisfaction of having three professionally trained bodies interpret your work.  OKPK is a creative man about town, whose reigning production skills have seen him involved in numerous collaborations and projects. It feels about as special as the sighting of a rare and precious bird to see him unaccompanied on a stage playing his solo creations (or maybe I just need to get out more?)  Too rare as well, are these alchemical moments, when locals so deeply invested in their own artistic mediums come together for these fusion-type performances.  Hopefully this initial push by PGNB has been enough of an inspirational spark that these types of platforms will only continue to grow more prevalent.

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After a brief interlude to process what we had seen, HYENAZ, a duo hailing all the from the artistically bred metropolis known as Berlin, entered the stage area with peculiarly beastly saunters.  ‘Mad Kate’ and ‘Tusk,’ veiled in white rags, positioned themselves each behind a microphone, feasting bulging-eyed maniacal expressions upon a perhaps slightly intimidated crowd. What then ensued is something unlike anything I’ve seen.  A sound redolent at times to a heavy metal ‘Fever Ray’, HYENAZ performance was a dark, synthy opera dramatizing all those things felt deep in the body that never quite make it to the surface.  The vast majority of body coverings vanished soon into the set, artfully so, until what remained were two loin-clothed thrusting bodies, at one point stretching plastic sheets across their faces to give their features a nice flattened-to-a-pulp look.  Though the performances obscurity may have been an all-consuming factor, two things should also be noted.  The first is their musicianship.  How wildly catchy and exhilarating their songs are and what fantastic voices they both have.  The second is that behind the grotesqueness of the moves lies a great deal of skill.  Loosely inspired by traditional Butoh dancing of Japan, the strength and precision required to contort ones bodies in such ways deserves solid recognition.

HYENAZ don’t attempt to glamorize or mythicize sexual nature to fit the highbrow definition of what is socially acceptable, pretty, and desirable.  Hell no.  Instead they flipped those conventions inside out, extracted the most potent elements, ground those to a fine powder, and snorted them.  The sexual core of their performance is something grotesque.  It’s animal and archaic.  It’s carnal bloodbath.  It should be locked away.  It makes you feel unbearable and embarrassed in your own body.  You may want to hide, or leave.  But sink so deep into your discomfort that you have almost fallen straight through, and you might realize you’re actually a little turned on.

This performance alone went above and beyond filling the void for edgy programming in Victoria.  Art is allowed to make us feel weird and uncomfortable.  It stirs up a dialogue that gets us talking about the whys behind those sentiments of discomfort.  Kudos to the PGNB organizers for having the intrepidity to bring something this raw into our fairweather city.