Review: Boy Blue Entertainment - A Night With Boy Blue - Barbican Theatre

Performance: 8 & 9 April 2016
Reviewed by Ruth Mattock - Monday 11 April 2016

Boy Blue Entertainment - A Night with Boy Blue, Barbican Theatre, April 2016. Photo: Mark Allan

Finding yourself seated behind a two-year old at a dance show, as I did at A Night With Boy Blue, is usually cause for dismay. You’ll get a sense of the blast of energy that is Boy Blue Entertainment when I say this particular tot sat transfixed for the solid two hours of hip hop hootenanny on Friday night.

Ten years ago Boy Blue presented a show at the Theatre Royal Stratford East* that put London Hip Hop on the map. Pied Piper: A Hip-Hop Dance Revolution won an Olivier Award, embarked on a UK tour and brought creators Kendrick ‘H2O’ Sandy and Michael ‘Mikey’ Asante some much-deserved attention.

Since 2006 they’ve become Associate Artists at the Barbican, brought the dance form to new audiences and continued in their mission to give kids the opportunity to dance to a professional standard.

Ten years on, A Night with Boy Blue puts over 100 dancers of all ages on stage in brand new material, as well as a nostalgic resetting of the award-winning Pied Piper itself. And boy do those high standards pay off.

We start with The Voice and tens of dancers on stage. Hands cover mouths in unmoving poses of suppression, identical along rows of dancers, but one at a time a dancer breaks away to throw off a tense, grimacing krump solo.

A burly leader moves amongst the ranks, pushing them to dance harder, express more. He growls at one tiny pig-tailed prodigy (who can krump like a small beast), ‘Tell them! Show them! What you sayin’?’ The style and power the youngest movers are capable of is a constant joy – and this isn’t the kind of dance that teaches little girls to be princesses and dolls.

From here the action gets more upbeat, blending Asante’s pumping musical mixes, arrangements and creations with Sandy’s intricate choreography. The two founders provide witty interludes (excepting one hellish moment of audience participation, sending spectators sliding into their seats until two victims were selected) and the steps slide seamlessly between styles.
Every dancer oozes style in facial expressions as well as technique, and the audience knows it – I suspect the Bach playing in the Barbican Hall next door enjoyed a far tamer appreciation than the whoops elicited by these bow-tied and booted performers.

But it’s not just slick moves and heavy beats. Performed by the adult company, i am a god sets a krumping preacher before a ‘50s-style flock of tormented parishioners. With all his aggression the preacher can’t calm them, and the dancers’ commitment to their anguish is breath-catching.

Big Trouble in Lil’ East London is a hilarious martial arts spoof, following a boy who grows up to avenge his father’s death in a series of increasingly implausible battles. And BLM, performed by a handful of senior company members, is a solemn expression of affinity with the Black Lives Matter campaign.
Finishing up the first act, 90s Block Party is a cheeky, indulgent trip into UK Garage and a chance for the dancers to show off their full range, from krump through locking and breaking to some particularly uninhibited waacking.

But, judging from the reaction of the crowd, it’s the return of the Pied Piper and much of the original cast that has filled the seats tonight. Kendrick Sandy resumes his role as the Piper, his signature style of graceful, almost oriental movement the perfect foil to his fiercely energetic victims.

Against a grubby set and video projection by Yeast Culture of grey and graffiti-ed cityscapes, the dancers exude a malignant energy. These are the rats – dissatisfied youths for whom the ‘governors’ enlist the Piper’s services to banish.

The ‘CV’ of the Piper’s previous conquests is a clever spin on the original. We see him vanquish a nest of sultry vipers who seduce their prey, mosquitoes whose pick pocketing white hands flutter menacingly over their victim, and vampire bats that soar over the Piper in an impressive display of flips and airborne spins.
The rats are not so easily extinguished though, and the battle scene is an intense and aggressive affair. At this point the abridged version of the show somewhat loses its grip on the narrative, and the nuance of which BBE are capable is lost in a showcase.

Too often in dance, the responsibility of storytelling, complexity and character is left to the more traditional forms. BBE have the wit and gravitas to take their turn. Let’s hope to see more of them.

Boy Blue Entertainment on Facebook

Photos: Mark Allan, courtesy the Barbican

Ruth Mattock is a freelance writer and Dance writer with Culture Whisper. Twitter: @RuthjsM

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