It would appear that Blaze is to hip hop as Burn the Floor has been to the popularity of ballroom and Latin. It can’t just be coincidental that they both start with the allusion of setting the stage alight. Since premiering in this theatre in 2010, Blaze has gone global with a worldwide tour that puts the meandering of the Olympic Flame to shame. Its journey reads like a game of “join the dots” between Summer Olympic venues: Berlin, Paris, Rome, Moscow, Sydney (in the Opera House, no less) and London, now – appropriately to continue this Olympic metaphor – twice!
Burn the Floor started life in 1999 and look what has happened to the Viennese Waltz and Paso Doble since then! Blaze looks well set to waack popping, locking and breaking into a similar league of mainstream popularity. Although by the time that happens there will be new forms of dance emerging from the next generation and maybe the clubs and the underground will have wrested innovation in dance back from the streets: and given that street dance has now gone all theatrical, perhaps the “street” moniker is now running out of relevance?
The changes in street dance are already clear to see. When I first encountered breakers on a stage, head spins were invariably performed while wearing a crash helmet (I guess it would have shed too much blood to head spin in the street without one). But now, 17 year-old Sunni Brummit – a sensational new UK breaker and the star find in this new Blaze team – turns multiple circles on his helmet-less head as easily and often as a ballerina rotates her fouettés. An even younger Sunni was part of the adolescent crew Jukebox Juniors, which was runner-up to 10 year-old Akai in series one of Sky’s Got to Dance, broadcast around the time of the Blaze London premiere in 2010. He’s certainly come a long way since then!
This show is made by Es Devlin’s brilliant set design, superbly augmented by effective lighting and projection designs. These interact to animate what appears to be either a place where luggage goes to die or the biggest set of IKEA drawers ever made! This apparently huge, wobbly pile of square and rectangular shapes with handles becomes a means of access to and from the stage and is lit up in a comic-book retro style. The music in any hip hop show has to be excellent and Danilo DJ Walde keeps the octane levels appropriately high.
The stunning virtuoso moves from a handful of these sixteen dancers were eye-watering, with Brummit’s extraordinary skills more than matched by the North American b-boy, Jeffery ‘Machine’ McCann – a notable survivor from the 2010 premiere – producing some watch-stopping freezes and muscular power moves; and French dancer, Marion Gallet, stooped to conquer with astounding flexibility, managing to look the audience in the eye, with her head upside down on the floor while her feet were firmly planted, pointing the other way. But, compared to the first cast of this show, led by Tommy Franzén and Lizzie Gough, arriving courtesy of several weeks’ pre-publicity through the BBC reality show, So You Think You Can Dance, this cast were relatively anonymous. Ruben Verhoeven gave an excellent Franzén impression in delivering Tommy’s iconic geeky-boy, locking solo but the charisma of that original cast was missing here, especially in the group dances, which were at times – dare I say – verging towards the dull. I found myself twiddling my thumbs while concentrating on the fact that mop-haired Davy Denkers looked a lot like Screech (Dustin Diamond’s character in the 90s US teen sitcom, Saved By The Bell) and the aforementioned McCann appeared a dead ringer for US sprinting legend, Michael Johnson. The thought of Screech bouncing around with Michael Johnson added a certain peculiarity to the imagery of the show.
In addition to the outrageousness of some of the moves, the best of Blaze comes in a raucous ending where the audience is brought to its feet to dance (and yes, I did!) and the sixteen proper performers give a capsuled cameo of their particular skills in a rousing curtain call. The programme blurb promises a ‘spectacle never before seen in theatres’. This is likely to be true only if you have lived a very sheltered life but, hyperbole aside; it is a fun show with an outstanding stage design and it continues to showcase some extraordinarily talented performers.