Soon he is joined by a group of black-clad dancers and they launch into an energetic bout of hip-hop. And then, led by Ivan Michael Blackstock, we enter the substance of TRAPLORD: an exploration of what it is like to be a young black man in the big, hostile city.
Ivan Michael Blackstock, who started life as a commercial dancer working for the likes of Dizzee Rascal and Neneh Cherry, has over the past few years concentrated on creating his own kind of intense dance-theatre, and that’s the genre TRAPLORD fits into.
As we understand it, TRAPLORD is a computer game, the lives of these real young black men mirroring the inhuman inevitability of lives on computer screens.
The pressures are tremendous. Through rap, dance and spoken poetry they tell us about the demands of constant displays of brash masculinity, clutching their genitals as if they were a curse.
Violence is all pervasive, either inflicted on black men by others, or black on black – an extended, graphic scene shows three men fighting mindlessly, with grim, seemingly unstoppable determination.
Projections on a screen at the back pass comment on what’s on stage. One black and white scene takes us to a classroom, where the teacher wearing a pig mask mocks his young students in their rabbit ears by asking them what they want to be when they grow up.
Simisola Majekodunmi’s grungy lighting with its unexpected bursts of harsh white light breaking the general darkness is immensely effective in creating a broody, immersive atmosphere.
And Ian William Galloway’s videos are superb, creating the fast-moving, hyperreal computer game with its blazing tower blocks, and menacing streets.
The yearning for freedom is a constant throughout, as is the ironic search for ‘the perfect human’; and though mostly unremittingly gloomy, the work does build towards a redemptive finale.
In a programme note, Ivan Michael Blackstock describes TRAPLORD as deliberately ‘non-linear, episodic and chaotic’ and asks us ‘not to intellectualise but to feel’.
TRAPLORD is in many ways a remarkable work, with high production values and served by a dozen strong dancers, both male and female. At times I found its narrative hard to follow, but was never in any doubt as to its power to convey the pain, confusion and rebellion embodied in being a young black man trying to find himself and his own way.
|What||TRAPLORD, Ivan Michael Blackstock review|
|Where||180 Studios, 180, The Strand, Temple, London, WC2R 1EA | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Temple (underground)|
26 Mar 22 – 16 Apr 22, 20:00 Dur.: 70 mins no interval
|Website||Click here to book|