Blurring the lines of hip hop culture
PUBLISHED: 13:46 17 April 2019 | UPDATED: 13:46 17 April 2019
Critically-acclaimed hip hop dance group Boy Blue is one of many highlights at the Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2019. John Bultitude finds out how the group explores political and social issues in its production of Blak Whyte Gray.
With the world in turmoil, what is important to you as an individual and how do you deal with the feelings of hopelessness as events appear to spin out of our control? The idea of finding comfort in culture is explored in a topical hip-hop dance production coming to Norwich this spring from a critically-acclaimed company.
Whatever your political viewpoint, there is a feeling that the world is in a state of flux politically and socially at the moment. When the time comes to ask questions and free yourself from the political and social tension, where do you turn?
One option is to explore culture and find some comfort in your roots. This idea is at the core of Blak Whyte Gray which is coming to Norwich Theatre Royal on May 14.
Being presented in association with the theatre as part of the Norfolk & Norwich Festival 2019, it explores the right to ask questions, how to break free from the inner tension of a system that is not working, and how turning to your roots and culture can provide support.
Using hip hop and a pulsating musical soundtrack which reflects Africa, it aims to play on the emotions and use the dancers' physicality to evoke these core ideas.
Michael 'Mikey J' Asante, the co-founder of Boy Blue which presents the piece, said it was inspired by conversations about the issues which affect us personally and the world at large. He said: “Our work has always responded to the issues of our young people and the climate we live in but this is the first time we have expressed these thoughts artistically on such a large scale.
“It feels like an appropriate time to be talking about things that are important to us and our community like the black lives matter situation, the current political climate in the UK pre-Brexit, the backlash against capitalism, and the narcissistic role of social media.
“There is so much tension in the world. You can see people are not happy with what they have been given and what they have been told they need to do. They are starting to question.”
These are difficult themes but have been embraced by Boy Blue which was formed in London in 2007. Its first work Pied Piper won an Olivier Award and helped the company become an Associate Artist at The Barbican.
It has since gone on to perform as part of the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony in London, had its work screened on BBC2, and produced five more pieces including Blak Whyte Gray.
Michael said the themes of Blak Whyte Gray all resonate with the Boy Blue team as well as looking spectacular. “We also aim to blur the worlds of hip hop with all styles of dance ranging from contemporary to African using whatever expresses the emotion or vibe we are trying to convey at the time. We also do this hopefully in a more sophisticated, unique and abstract way so that we can bring something fresh and different to people who just enjoy dance as an art form,” he said.
It is split into three, hence the title of the piece, with Whyte looking at the idea of being held down and not reaching goals or feeling depressed and how this creates a numbness.
Gray then sees an awakening from this looking at the courage to question things and the tension between apathy and action.
Blak then explores the death of ego and the birth of freedom with what the creative team sees as a spiritual piece of dance.
There is a lot of emotion in it too and Kenrick, the co-artistic director of Boy Blue, said it was first created against the backdrop of the issues in the United States around police brutality and the Rodney King case, which saw three Los Angeles police officers acquitted over the beating of an African-American.
He said: “We also want to take people on their own personal journey. Everyone has their own asylum and their own angers and frustrations so we hope people will relate to the three sections of the piece in their own way. It is essentially about the human experience. We are all in this together.”
As well as the themes, it also sees the return of high-profile hip hop work to the Theatre Royal stage for the first time since the Breakin' Convention festival in 2017.
Kenrick said he wants to show the dance and music style is more than just an entertainment genre. He said: “We are really trying to push forward the idea that hip hop is not just about dancing to a track that is verse and chorus. It is about self-expression. In the sense that we celebrate the freestyler, we also celebrate the battler.
“Hip hop has no boundaries and no limits. It embraces every other style and does not discriminate. It will go where the creator, the choreographer and the dancer takes it. I think it is in a beautiful space right now.”
Blak Whyte Gray, Tuesday 14 May at 7.30pm. Tickets £10-£26. Discounts for Friends.
To book, log onto www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk or call the box office on 01603 630000.