Review: Red Ink, The Place, Bedford

As part of a collaboration with The Place, Bedford, we are publishing reviews by three young writers between June and August 2019. This is by 17 year old Jamie Williams.

Let’s discuss the notion of propaganda. No, it’s not a well-dressed goose, before anyone says anything (proper-gander). But imagine your freedom restricted, having to concoct schemes someone else tells you to; to think what they say. Live a lie, or face the consequences.

This issue is vibrantly and frighteningly conveyed in choreographer Si Rawlinson’s show, Red Ink, which is part of a collaboration with Bedford Creative Arts for Refugee Week 2019. The show expertly dissects the all too real issue of freedom of expression with passion, power, and paint. Rawlinson, Vladmir Gruev and Helder Delgado, of the company Wayward Thread, spin, kick and whip their way through one hour of frenetic dance, complete with hair art (more on that later). Inspired by the visual art of Ai Weiwei and the films of Zhang Yimou, the show starts off with a series of images of the daily lives of Chinese citizens on a white canvas. Rawlinson brushes this pristine surface over with a solid black varnish, obscuring the truth before our eyes, even before the dancing begins. And boy, do they dance. Their contemporary choreography blazes through the auditorium, as crimson and hot as their trousers. They perform so many windmills that the Tasmanian Devil would be put to shame. They move as one, restraining, pumping, shunting, to break out of the culture of oppression that their writer personas face.

From video footage of early lives of the citizens (which are sneakily snuffed out by Delgado’s sinuous shadow puppetry), to the reminder of torture and interrogation of those who dare step over the line between truth and safety (an image of the lone protester at Tiannamen Square proves particularly poignant), the audience are entranced by the performers’ precision. But the final scene is the most audacious and visually striking. Rawlinson washes his already jet-black hair with more dark ink, then, in a series of twists and rolls (and a lot of hair-pulling to boot), he lashes paint onto the canvas, bleeding black ink, conveying the anger of one who has to cover up his country’s chaos. The final image of the cast hugging is a sign of optimism and unity in times of crisis. A brilliant performance from everyone, underscored by the heavy-hitting hip-hop soundtrack from Kidkanevil, Simon McCorry, Jan Brzezinski, Hauschka and Rawlinson

The show is, however, marred by an initial lack of focus towards the subject matter. If I hadn’t read the insert on my seat before the show, I would not know, up until 15 minutes in, that freedom of expression is the inspiration for the piece. Moreover, the dancers are dimly lit and although this might be intentional, I feel that the faint glow illuminating them is a little too off-putting; the audience simply can’t see them. That aside, the show is spectacular to watch, and provides the audience with an explosive experience that they will never forget.

Red Ink played on 19 June. For more information on the company, visit the Wayward Thread website.