Boy Blue have been instrumental in turning hip hop, the street dance of disaffected urban youths, into a theatrical phenomenon, extending its appeal without diluting its raw power. It’s quite a feat for the creative partnership of MC and musician Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante and choreographer Kendrick ‘H2O’ Sandy, the brains behind Boy Blue.
Blak Whyte Gray, co-commissioned by the Barbican, returned to the theatre where a year ago it premiered to great acclaim and a subsequent raft of awards nominations.
It’s a work in three parts with a loose narrative arc that takes us from a beginning of constrained robotics and body popping – Whyte – through the conflict best expressed through krumping – Gray – to the explosion of unalloyed joy of dancing that is its final sequence, Blak.
Whyte is a section for three dancers: Ricardo da Silva, Gemma Kay Hoddy and Dickson Mbi.
Boy Blue, Whyte, dancers Gemma Kay Hoddy, Ricardo da Silva, Dickson Mbi, photo Carl Fox
Dressed in padded, buckled tunics (vaguely reminiscent of straightjackets) the dancers move like robots, responding with jerky movements of individual body sections to the jolts and shocks of Asante’s score.
Further constrained by the light box created by Lighting Designer Lee Curran, the dancers remain in a tight cluster, their faces occasionally contorting in silent screams, an individual’s attempt to break away from the group soon thwarted.
Section 2, entitled Gray, is performed by the whole company of eight dancers. Through the medium of krumping it brings us the anger and aggression of the street, bodies now released from the strictures of the previous section, moving freely and more expansively. At times they morph into weapons; individuals form confrontational groups. It’s a dance of resistance, a search for meaning, encapsulated in the question posed by a disembodied male voice: ‘Is everybody gonna die before someone finds the answer?’
Section 3, after the interval, brings all the strands together. it starts with a prone man, his seemingly defeated body feebly convulsing. His companions try to raise him up, but he keeps falling. Finally however, he stays up; and when a long red strip of cloth is wrapped around him like a mantle, he becomes a leader or a prophet.
Boy Blue, Blak, Dickson Mbi and company, photo Carl Fox
Then, in a spell-binding sequence, the man, danced by Dickson Mbi – truly one of the most charismatic and compelling dancers around – engages in a fluid solo that effortlessly melds all the dazzling possibilities of dance, droplets of light slowly circling at his feet, as if he was dancing on a bright firmament. It’s an awe-inspiring moment.
The end brings a liberation: a rousing explosion of collective carefree dancing against an orange background, the stage for once free from its previous gloom, and dancers taking every opportunity to show off individual prowess.
Blak Whyte Gray is a remarkable achievement. It deserves to be seen, enjoyed and shared.
Age Guidance: 12+
|What||Review: Boy Blue, Blak Whyte Gray|
|Where||Barbican Theatre, Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London, E2CY 8DS | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Barbican (underground)|
12 Sep 18 – 15 Sep 18, 19:45 Dur.: 1 hour and 30 mins inc one interval
|Price||£15-£25 (plus £3 booking fee)|
|Website||Click here to book via the Barbican website|