Deputy Culture Editor – Art
For China, the 1960s and 70s were tumultuous times. The Cultural Revolution was taking place and art was completely politicised. So much so that only eight “model theatre” performances were permitted by the Chinese government to be shown to public audiences. The Red Detachment of Women – which premiered in 1964 in Beijing – was one of these revolutionary model theatrical works that formed the official cultural canon during this period.
It is this historical opera/ballet that the contemporary RED – playing at the Tramway on 1 October – takes as its inspirational point of departure. Red is a documentary performance by Wui Hui in collaboration with the Living Dance Studio. Together, they have created a show that combines archival visuals of the original ballet with interviews from the original cast members. This combination forms the backdrop for the contemporary dancers to engage with on stage.
This fusion of ballet and storytelling recounts the story of Wu Qionghua, a peasant girl who flees enslavement to join the Red Army-led women’s detachment in Hainan Province to fight the Nationalist troop. Explorations of Chinese history, a women’s place in society and other sensitive social issues affecting people living in China are to be expected.
Despite its political overtones, The Red Detachment of Women is much loved nationally; you will struggle to find a Chinese person that’s not heard of it. Indeed, it garnered somewhat of an iconic status when performed for the Nixons and Henry Kissinger during their historic visit to Beijing in 1972.
It appears, too, that RED is becoming just as well received. The show has been touring internationally for the last three years. Yet, this is Wen Hui’s first visit to the UK in a decade. It truly is a one-off showing so be sure to catch it at the start of next month.
RED is performed at the Tramway on Monday 1 October, 7.30pm – 8.30pm. Tickets are £14 (£9 for students) and can be purchased online.