Having made enormous (and innovative waves) in the world of dance theatre with Blak, Whyte, Gray in 2017, associates of The Barbican, Boy Blue, return home with a nine-strong cast of dancers for the debut of their latest masterpiece, REDD.
Directors, Kendrick ‘H2O’ Sandy (choreographer) and Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante (composer), present us with around seventy-five intermission-less minutes of work as evidence of their long-term creative collaboration for Boy Blue. Clearly, all the visual and audible elements of REDD are born to live, breathe, grunt and explode together on this stage.
Once our ever-present protagonist (performed by Sandy himself) tentatively jerks his way into a sharp, square spotlight, the unfortunate victim of ‘those irreversible moments in life’ that the show promises to explore is established. What follows is a welcome meditation on the complex relationship between masculinity and vulnerability as a result of grief and trauma.
Unlike the distinctive three-part structure of Blak, Whyte Gray, REDD’s narrative is carried by a more fluid sort of fragmentation. Here, episodes fade in and away via indulgent – and sometimes colourful – lighting changes (designed by Charlie Morgan Jones), made more distinctive still by Ryan Dawson Laight’s choice of neutrally-coloured costume.
The show’s structure does, however, make any coherent narrative quite difficult to follow. As our tragic hero battles with the conflict between dancing alongside or against his grief, Boy Blue are not so much story-tellers as explorers of emotion. It’s clear that time is severely condensed in the world of REDD, but I’m left wondering whether these flowing episodes are navigating the many separate traumatic events in this man’s life (if so, poor guy!) or his numerous strategies and failures experienced through dealing with one single event. A decisive moment of catharsis at the end of the show veers me towards the latter.
Sandy’s choreography makes astounding use of the cast’s power, stamina and synchronicity, whilst also finding moments to collapse into more sparse, chaotic movement and staging. Whilst owing much to its hip-hop, crump and break dance roots, Sandy’s strong choreographic focus on the face delves into the ‘introspective journey’ that is having to relearn and adapt to one’s physical and emotional environments post-trauma.
Asante’s often atonal and syncopated musical composition can be sinister. At times appropriating contemporary grime beats and even nostalgic 80s keyboard, the score dares its audience to tap along, only to cut into sudden, short silences or a prolonged drone. Nothing, even rhythm, is designed to be grasped or held onto in this show. Asante’s use of voice is also kept, frustratingly, just out of reach. He even leaves space for live stimulus, allowing the soundtrack to dissolve and be taken over by the audible breath of the dancers.
I left the Barbican emotionally and intellectually exhausted, but feeling as though I had not only witnessed, but also processed something truly incredible. REDD is a welcome and important reminder to stay hopeful and human despite the chaos currently playing havoc with our political and social climates.
REDD is playing Barbican Theatre until 5 October. For more information and tickets, see https://www.barbican.org.uk/whats-on/theatre-dance.