Afua Hall’s “Red” is a critical protest

Arts / Article

On my way to Afua Hall’s “Red” at the Miami Theater Center last Friday, I got stuck in traffic caused by Miami Critical Mass—an event held the last Friday of every month where bicyclists take over major city streets en masse. Their goal is to spark county-wide awareness of climate change. Drivers were quite annoyed. They honked and slung verbal insults at the bikers. This mass protest informed my experience of “Red”—Hall’s dance theater based on the civil rights struggle of Ruby Bridges.

“Red” by Afua Hall. Photo by Neil de la Flor

I missed the intro to “Red,” so when I went home, I had to brush up on American History. What I learned: In 1960, Bridges was the first black child to attend an all-white elementary school in the South. On her first day, white parents withdrew their children and teachers refused to teach while Bridges was on campus. Norman Rockwell’s iconic painting “The Problem We All Live With” depicts Bridges’ first day of school. The Bridges’ family suffered, but the long-term trajectory of civil rights in America bent inevitably toward greater equality.

I finally entered MTC through the backdoor. Hall and dancer/collaborator Elana Lanczi were hovering over a projector and, using transparencies, they elegantly choreographed a collage of historical documents and photographic images onto the rear wall. This provided some visual context, however something went off track when Hall and Lanczi took to the stage.

"Red" by Afua Hall. Photo by Neil de la Flor

“Red” by Afua Hall. Photo by Neil de la Flor

The choreography unintentionally created sexual tension. Hall is woman, not a six-year old child. Even though she assumed the affects of a child, these affectations didn’t quite work, probably due to her magnetic personality as a performer. And, despite the gorgeous staging, some of the props, such as a canopy of black and white hanging dolls, created a perplexing tension between Hall’s child-like persona and the underlying violence these props possessed.

What was supposed to be the recasting of a story between a black child and her white teacher became something more significant. On purpose, I’m not quite sure. All I know is that Hall forced me to confront my own prejudices. Was I not comfortable with a black woman and a white woman in intimate, close contact? Was I prejudiced against women of any ethnic makeup dancing together? What really made me uncomfortable about the performance?

"Red" by Afua Hall. Photo by Neil de la Flor

“Red” by Afua Hall. Photo by Neil de la Flor

Maybe that was the point: to spark discomfort and self-awareness of our prejudices. Perhaps Hall wanted, just like the Miami Critical Mass bikers, to spark an (uncomfortable) awareness of our role and responsibility in creating a more just and equitable society. If the bikers and Hall hadn’t made their respective statements, we wouldn’t be talking about it now—and that’s the point of art and the art of protest.

Hall’s “Red” sought to reconcile America’s racist past with its present because it is a past that we all live with whether we accept it or not. No matter how far we’ve come as a nation, how we think and how we talk about race remains a delicate and complicated issue for us to navigate. Hall recognized this and danced around the subject.

“Red” will be performed July 5-6 and 12-13 at 8 p.m. at the Miami Theater Center, 9806 N.E. 2nd Ave., Miami Shores; 305-751-9550; www.mtcmiami.org. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased here.