Blak Whyte Gray is the second Boy Blue Entertainment production I have had the pleasure of reviewing, and combined with other less formal interactions with the work of Kenrick H2o Sandy and Mickey J Asante, I must say, they never seem to fail.
Unlike, their previous production, The Five & the Prophecy of Prana this title already provided a far more abstract concept, giving away very little about what you are about to see. The production’s choice of promotional image also giving pause. As much as we speak about the idea of a “Post-Racial Society”, the image of two Black bodies seemingly wrapped around a white one is something bound to inspire all kinds of reactions. But, for anyone who may be put off going to see this piece based on the promo images – DON’T BE!
Blak Whyte Gray is by far Boy Blue Entertainment’s most daring piece. It abandons the linear narrative structure to present three distinct canvases upon which movement; concepts and conversations burst to life, allowing your mind to decipher deeper meanings whilst amazed by what can only be described as artistic excellence.
In Whyte we find three dancers, confined to a beam of light, restricted by a strait jacket type garment. Their existence only apparent in the isolated, staccato movement that each engages in, emphasised by their apparent disconnect from each other. Here, the pop-locking style is used to great effect as it morphs into rigid boxing formation. The once blank faced characters seem to discover a sense of self-awareness as weird, contorted, underdeveloped expressions accompany increased physical restriction as they are trapped back in their initial high beam; mouths contorted, trying to find a voice they never knew existed.
With Gray the energy turns up, as we enter a post-apocalyptic world. An apparent group of rebels featuring the full crew of 8 performers, are at war. The confinements of the previous movement are no more. These characters are completely intent of breaking free of all chains; taking everything around them down. Here, the well-known Krumping dance-style is used masterfully, to the extent few would have experienced it as developed as displayed here. The style naturally lends itself to emotion and drama, with choreographer Kenrick’s powerful narrative, truly bringing the theatrical potential of Krump to life.
The Gray ensemble are charged, powerful, self-aware and aware of each other and their surroundings. A valiant leader presides over this high energy, commanding the flow of the power, strategically coordinating the targets and keeping morale high. This die-hard piece concludes with what appears to be the Empire striking back; the light changes bring images of metal and concrete to mind; our warriors imprisoned, yet undefeated.
Then there is Blak – in some ways beginning where Gray left off. Our characters imprisoned. A central character lies lifeless, various mundane attempts to revive him inspire them to delve in to the spiritual, as a Chakra reawakening and alignment is enacted, bursting life in to his body and inspiring an energy transference between every living soul present. Krump subtly evolves into West African Classical Dance and the energy becomes earthy and ancestral – literally. The ritual thus performed – each living soul is in celebration of self and each other, which brought the beautiful use of Bashment style dance to the forefront. The extrovert movements naturally lending themselves to shakara (showing off), especially of the physical form. But Blak transcends the physical, going beyond vanity to a true appreciation of beauty within ourselves and those reflected around us.
Mikey J, as always, goes in on the rhythms; but Blak Whyte Gray sees a more considered Jazz like sensibility in the accomplished producer. His vision is so apparently embedded in the piece as the journeys within the music completely engulf you. The beats are phat yet minimalist in their percussive renditions.
In Whyte, digital-synthesised sounds flow over the boom-bap. In Gray you are greeted by the consistent addition of an array of traditional Drum and Chant from all over the African continent. The result is almost a new genre of music. Lyricists will be constructing verses and composing bars in their heads no doubt, a worthy compliment to the poetry in motion you will be experiencing on the stage.
As an audience member, there is a relationship between intense silence and audible reaction. For much of this piece you could feel the intention of the creators to compel you to sit, drink in and think about what you are taking in. This is not a restriction, but rather, a meditative state that was used beautifully throughout the piece. Blak is the moment to let loose and fully immerse yourself in the interactive celebration. The contrast is an effective device. There is much to appreciate artistically about this production. The range of dance styles seamlessly employed being the most prominent.
Furthermore, the cultural significance of styles more readily associated with the African Diaspora providing the primary driving force for such high art is noteworthy. And each style carries a function in the piece that accentuates the characteristic inherent in the style. Pop-Locking – Isolation. Krump – emotion & therapy. African Classical – spirituality. Bashment – self-celebration. Although these basic elements do shine through, it’s deeper and much more complex than that.
My one and only critique is that it is too short. Not drastically so, but such a build-up of energy and vibration kinda leaves one expecting just one more scene.
Blak Whyte Gray is a must-see production
Blak Whyte Gray runs until Saturday 21st January 2017 / 19:45, 14:30 at The Barbican. Book your tickets here.
Read TBB’s archive interview with Boy Blue Entertainment founders Mikey J & Kendrick ‘H20’ Sandy here.
Read TBB’s #OutOf100 review of Five & The Prophecy of Prana here.