Boy Blue Entertainment are set once again to make their mark on the development of Hip-Hop Dance Theatre in the UK with the staging of their forthcoming production, The Five & The Prophecy of Prana at The Barbican.
Founded by Kenrick “H20” Sandy and Michael “Mikey J” Asante in 2001, Boy Blue have stood at the forefront of the street dance industry, most notably hailed for their adaptation of the poem, Pied Piper. Since then they have gone on to choreograph for Jonzi D’s Breaking Convention, the 2012 London Olympic Opening Ceremony alongside Oscar winning filmmaker Danny Boyle and artists Dizzee Rascal and Alexandra Burke to name but a few.
The Five and the Prophecy Prana, sees the duo push their own creative boundaries further as it is their first entirely self-written piece. This monumental production is a fusion of Hip-Hop Dance, Shaolin Kung Fu and Manga style narrative, set around the lives of a group of troubled youngsters and the attempt of a mystical would be mentor to guide them along the right path. Just the concept sounds exciting enough, prompting me to ask the question:
What was the spark that inspired the creation of this show?
Kenrick: When it comes to us creating work, sometimes creativity can come from jokes and fun, we could be there just chilling having a joke. I’d say one of the main stimuli was this drawing that I did of a Black martial Arts character called Wang-Tang. But his full name was supposed to be Wang-Tang Fooey. So originally Wang-Tang is kinda from Wu-Tang and the working title of the show at first was actually Wang-Tang Fooey.
Mikey J: Yeah but you know Won Ton soup? When we were dealing with the Japanese, one of our Japanese collaborators was like “I think that people are gonna get that mixed up with Won Ton soup”. So we changed it [Laughs].
Kenrick: So it came from a picture and there’s this character that was just there. Me and Mikey have always been inspired by Manga. We used to watch Manga; draw Manga when we were in school. So it was like, we can create this 3D-4D kinda comic book on stage and we can create these characters and we can have the animal styles and look at the different dance styles and incorporate the dance styles with the animal styles and hopefully we can get some sessions with Shaolin Monks… We got the sessions with some Shaolin Monks. We learned the Shaolin Martial Art Kung Fu stances and everything. We stared to mix and blend their moves to movement. From a dance point of view, you don’t have your script. You have your routines, your ideas and you have your 5, 6, 7, 8’s. So we had to write a script…
When you got to the storyline aspect of it now, how did you go about developing that?
Mikey J: It was a few things. We obviously wanted to make a Manga, so the idea that came into the brain of Hisashi [Japanese consultant] was that we should find someone who’s out there who does Manga stuff to come and talk with these guys. So he brought this artist called Akio Tanaka. But then funnily enough, the way their system works is that you have the artist, the person who draws and then you have editors who kinda figure out the story. So initially when we put down our ideas of what we wanted our show to be, and we sent it to them, he was like “Nah – this is not Manga”. So then he hit us back with what Manga is. It made us understand that our storytelling had to be a little bit more unique; you’ve got the western way of telling stories and then you have the eastern way of telling stories.
After immersing themselves in the Japanese Narrative style; a process both admit was a challenging, but extremely rewarding experience. They began sharpening their scriptwriting skills in dialogue and character development. The aim was to evolve the entire story full of depth and layers; then relay it in a manner inspiring the ultimate suspense. Ironically, they were in tune with the culture they were emulating. Whilst Manga begins with visual arts to develop a story, Boy Blue use Dance & Movement as their visual motivation towards developing a fable. It becomes apparent that Kenrick and Mikey create and teach for a purpose. As well as artistic excellence, they have ideas to impart. This realisation lead me to me to ask:
I have read a bit about the storyline. Was there an intention to make it relatable to this present generation of young people?
Kenrick: I think so. With great power comes great responsibility. Wang Tang has this power, and in the story, he falls from grace. So this is an opportunity for him and a responsibility for him to push this next generation. It’s about people who are in bad places, finding a light and developing themselves to be the best – To be better. With the five-young people Wang Tang is dealing with, all of them are on their last straw when it comes to the system and with regards to the law. He’s looking to bring them into a better space. Comparative to what’s happening right now. Young people today need more mentors to help push them to a better place. So for us, we promote for young people to come and see our shows ‘cos in our shows there is this underlining thing. Whether it’s a theme or a concept or whether it’s the way that we work and the outcome of our work. It’s always about giving people aspiration.
Why should people come and see this show?
Mikey J: Listen! You need to come to this show because we’ve tried to connect a full show of music, sound, Manga moves; fusion with what’s happening on stage and what’s happening with the projection. It’s a total package, and you ain’t gonna see anything like this; something that’s gonna be powerful, energetic, fresh and new.
Kenrick: I would say, there’s always an expectation for what Boy Blue brings. The show is something I believe, for other dancers to support other dancers. Performers support other performers; artists support other artists in pushing the scene. Especially Hip-Hop theatre. It’s opening up and it’s becoming a big thing now. Now this is an opportunity for you to see what we’re doing and for you to bring it. If everyone has that mentality there’ll be a whole lot of freshness round here.
The camaraderie which exists between these two brothers is evident and certainly the backbone which keeps Boy Blue standing. Mikey & Kenrick are set to blow up stages all over the world with The Five and The Prophecy of Prana. Special features for this run include a matinee, featuring routines from the young students of Boy Blue and an after show jam for those who want to vibe with the cast and crew.
Whatever heights they may reach based upon the excellence of their output, the ethos of Boy Blue is to remain dedicated to the art and the positive messages they’re in.
A line from Kenrick, that Mikey vows to place on a T-Shirt one day, sums up the spirit of the work and the mission of Boy Blue:
Kenrick: It’s not about the fame of today – It’s about the legacy of tomorrow!
The Five & the Prophecy of Prana runs across the UK from 2 October – 15 November 2014
For tickets and info visit The Five Tour.
Read TBB’s #OutOf100 review of the show here.