Boy Blue founders and directors Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy and Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante believe that hip-hop, originally the street dance of disaffected urban youths, has the ability – mission even – to tell a powerful, engaging story.
In REDD, though, they go beyond storytelling to create a dark, introspective work. Inspired by the Gaelic word ‘redd,’ which means to clear or tidy up, they look at the human mind’s urge to put things in order.
Their overall theme, denoted by the poem 143 Words on Grief, printed in the programme, seems to be the profoundly affecting impact of grief on an individual, and the slow, uneven process of overcoming grief, lest you are, in the words of the poem ‘outlived by it.’
On a gloomy, smoky stage, only occasionally relieved by the briefest flash of light (lighting design by Charlie Morgan Jones), a single man, performed by Kenrick 'H20' Sandy (himself still a mean hip-hop dancer), stands desolate, sudden bursts of jerky arm movements translating seemingly unquenchable emotional pain.
His mouth opens in a silent cry. His anguished body contracts. He seems to mimic the shooting of a machine gun, as the score reproduces a rat-tat-tat sound. This is a lo-fi hip-hop score, composed by Michael 'Mikey J' Asante: scratchy, repetitive, unnerving, relying on low notes that vibrate inside our bodies.
Gradually, Boy Blue’s eight dancers take to the stage, first two by two in fast diagonal runs, later returning more cautiously to approach the grieving man.
All are dressed in stone-coloured trousers and tops (costume designer Ryan Dawson Laight), the effect on the hazy stage being an unrelenting monochrome. Only as we progress towards the final catharsis do coloured spotlights momentarily brighten up the costumes.
Until the final sequence there is little sustained coordinated dancing. Rather, the structure of the piece is episodic, dance breaking up just as it seems on the verge of developing. This is clearly deliberate, but it's a little frustrating for the viewer.
Throughout, the man seems an outsider, his grief impervious to other people’s attempts at solace. In a particularly affecting sequence, he comes face to face with another man and they engage in a duel of loud exhalations of breath in a crescendo that ends with a deep cry.
Although its dark mood is unmistakable, not all elements of REDD are easily identifiable; but the piece’s narrative arc is clear enough. It ends with the most sustained sequence of dancing in the evening, the costumes brightened up by red sashes; and as these superb hip-hop dancers leave the stage, one gives the man a red sash.
It’s as if a powerful storm has been tamed; and the man’s grief is finally giving way to peace and hope.
Age Guidance: 12+
Post show talk: 1 October. Free to same-day ticket holders
NOTE: Boy Blue’s REDD will be showing as part of Dance Umbrella’s Fairfield Takeover on Sat 19 October at Fairfield Halls, Croydon.
|What||Boy Blue, REDD Review|
|Where||Barbican Theatre, Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London, E2CY 8DS | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Barbican (underground)|
27 Sep 19 – 05 Oct 19, 19:45 Sat 14:30 No performance 29, 30 Sept Dur.: 75 mins no interval
|Price||£16.30 (+ booking fee; concessions available)|
|Website||Click here to book|