Boy Blue: Blak, Whyte, Gray – Barbican, London

Concept: Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante

Director: Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy and Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Hip-hop is having a moment. Increasingly fusion hip-hop is being seen more and more on renowned dance stages, and while Pierre Rigal’s new piece which premiered at Sadler’s Wells was disappointing, fans of the genre have a second chance to see the Olivier-nominated Boy Blue’s Blak, Whyte, Gray launching at the Barbican in 2017, and now returning to the venue for a short four-performance run before its transfer to Lincoln Centre, New York.

Across just 90-minutes, including a 20-minute interval, Boy Blue present three distinct but narratively-consistent dances. It begins with Whyte and, as with so many dance shows these days, it starts in complete blackout, three figures becoming increasingly visible as the light slowly rises. They barely move at first – stillness and pose become a feature of the show – but soon judder into life, like robots slowly warming-up or dolls coming to life.

Whyte is a short but beautifully performed piece in which the synchronicity and control of the performers Ricardo Da Silva, Gemma Kay Hoddy and Dickson Mbi is crucial to the overall effect. There is a clear sense of something external animating them, as though the life force doesn’t come from within, but is created by the music, linking to Rigal’s question of whether tune or movement is the inception point for dance. Interestingly, as the story unfolds, the audience is less clear whether the figures are finding life or one malfunction away from its end.

Gray next, which starts seamlessly as a lone figure (Theophillus ‘Godson’ Oloyade) is trapped in a square spotlight, and before long he’s joined by the remained of his group, Natasha Gooden, Jordan Franklin, Nicole McDowall and Idney De’Almeida. What follows is a semi-dystopian tale of oppression, insurrection and defeat as the insurgents escape the confines of their light prison and attack the enemy with sequences that include mimed rifle fire and grenades.

There is a fierce and almost desperate feel to Gray, full of attitude, fear and rage as the group try to mimic their leader’s confidence, using strong-arm shaping and stomping rhythms to bolster their courage and unity ahead of the decisive battle to come. As Da Silva, Hoddy and Mbi join the fight, the dancers fill the stage, building to an interesting crescendo using Lee Curran’s rapidly flickering lighting design to give the illusion of the dancers’ bodies almost vibrating with rhythm.

After the interval, Blak begins in a suggested post-war setting as the captain of the rebel group is now broken and defeated. Together his team must help him to rebuild and a lengthy sequence at the start of Blakis dedicated to support, recovery and teamwork as they prop-up their leader and, like a child, try to teach him to stand, move and take charge again.

As with the earlier works, the dancers remain still on several occasions, holding a particular pose in unison as the team starts to reform. Left alone on stage, Dickson Mbi delivers an impressive solo piece as the leader rediscovers his response to the music, choreographically mixing the shapes of hip-hop with the flowing movements and poise of ballet. Eventually, decked as Caesar in a draped red cloth, he resumes his position of power and the ritualistic tribal celebrations play-out in the remainder of the show.

Boy Blue’s Blak, Whyte, Grey feels like a unified story about awakening, change and rebirth, where fighting for something you believe in ultimately leads to self and social awareness. Kendrick ‘H2O’ Sandy’s distinctive choreography seems to respond to every phrase of Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante’s music, and while occasionally the transitions between different types of sound are a little abrupt, the fusion of hip-hop, ballet and contemporary dance nicely underscores the political argument at its heart.

Runs Until 15 September 2018 | Image: Contributed

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