It’s 15 years since Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy and Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante founded Boy Blue Entertainment. In that time, they have helped push hip-hop dance to the forefront of the London dance scene, created an Olivier award-winning show, been made artistic associates of the Barbican and appeared in the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony. They have also inspired many youngsters to take up hip-hop dance – and A Night with Boy Blue, now in its third year, was an opportunity for them to showcase the talent the company is nurturing across its professional and various youth companies.
As with all such showcase events, where every last member needs his or her moment on stage, it was an enthusiastic if somewhat ramshackle affair. The advantage of having so many offshoot groups to call up – Sky Blue, The Bluez, The Blueprint, Alpha Blue and BBE Push, as well as the professionals – was Sandy and Asante could flood the stage, shock and awe-style, with dancers performing in synch. The disadvantage (for anyone not related to a participant) was, of course, the creative choreographic limitations imposed by non-professionals. Although there was a lot of impressive, determined hip-hop attitude and clean lines, and some good demonstrations of locking, krumping and even waacking, the sequences tended to feel rather confined and not hugely innovative. (It was, nonetheless, hugely encouraging to see how many of the young dancers were girls.)
The Boy Blue trademark of mixing bboying with kung-fu katas was clearly in evidence. The highlights were elsewhere, though: I Am a God, performed by the BBE Adult Company (and included in the showcase last year) imagined a revival meeting of holy rollers being seized by the spirit of God, their spontaneous movements metamorphosed into spotlit hip-hop dance. And the 90s Block Party that closed the first half triggered such an upsurge in the energy level on stage that you were left feeling deeply nostalgic for the music of the time. Montell Jordan, anyone?
There was more nostalgia to come, however: the second half of the show was a ten-year anniversary celebration of Pied Piper, Boy Blue’s Olivier winner and breakthrough show. A large number of the original cast were drafted back to reprise their roles, although this was a necessarily filleted version of the 90-minute piece, co-created with Ultz. The story is simple: Sandy’s zen-master Pied Piper, whose CV (acted out here) comprises opening cans of whoop-ass on vermin-like gangs across the world, is hired to rid one city of its plague of ratty Asbo kids. Sandy made an imposing presence in the midst of a whirling mass of rigorously disciplined hip-hop chop-socky. Even with this shortened version, however, you couldn’t help noticing the lack of narrative drive to the whole thing, which means it really just all merged into one impressively choreographed dust-up.