Boy Blue – Redd – London

Boy Blue in REDD.© Carl Fox. (Click image for larger version)
Boy Blue in REDD.
© Carl Fox. (Click image for larger version)

Boy Blue

London, Barbican
27 September 2019

When Boy Blue presented Blak Whyte Gray in 2017 it felt like a leap forwards for the hip-hop dance company created by Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy and Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante. A weighty triptych of abstract pieces, it carried big themes with a quiet maturity. Redd is the follow-up piece, again plunging into difficult emotional terrain; this time focusing on a danced expression of the turbulence of grief and depression.

Sandy takes the lead role, a towering figure onstage around whom his crew revolve: portraying a man overwhelmed and trapped. The square of light he stays in represents his mental prison, a motif used in the previous show. Sandy’s movements are the robotic gestures of locking and popping; meanwhile dancers flit across the stage: manifestations of his most pessimistic thoughts, provocations, or sometimes cajoling figures trying to lift Sandy’s character out of his doldrums. At one point, they all pile on top of him, weighing him down.

Mikiel Donovan and Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy in REDD.© Carl Fox. (Click image for larger version)
Mikiel Donovan and Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy in REDD.
© Carl Fox. (Click image for larger version)

A simple vignette hints at past trauma – Sandy posing in what looks like a family snap, only to have each family member torn away from his side, until he is left alone with a rictus grin. He staggers, dazed, through the aftermath of this emotional explosion – other dancers manipulating his body as though forces outside him are controlling him – until Mikiel Donovan appears as an angry alter ego, harnessing the provocatively aggressive energy of krumping as he rages alongside Sandy. Then as the fog starts to lift the bristling determination of the immensely talented b-girl Emma Houston (a fellow survivor?) brings Sandy’s character back to some sort of equilibrium and inner peace.

Charlie Morgan Jones’s penumbral lighting and Asante’s twitchy, bass-heavy electronic score, with its disembodied snatches of voices and troubling distortions, pile on the intensity of this introspective 70-minute piece. It feels like something very personal to its creators – it also feels rather over-extended, and the resolution didn’t seem entirely earned. But, although not in the same league as Blak Whyte Gray, Redd is another bold exploration of the storytelling potential of hip-hop dance, which succeeds in showing that beyond the crowd-pleasing tricks, this form can mine powerful, complex, gutsy emotions.

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