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Blak Whyte Gray review at Barbican Centre, London – ‘pure physical poetry’

A scene from Gray from Blak Whyte Gray at Barbican Theatre. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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In Blak Whyte Gray, hip-hop dance company Boy Blue Entertainment extend the expressive capabilities of their form in fascinating style. Choreographed by Kenrick Sandy and set to a juddering electronic score by Michael Asante (both company co-founders), it’s an undoubtedly political work, full of rage and cultural reverence made vivid via the awesome physical articulacy of the dancers.

In the first section, Whyte, three dancers appear in a block of light on a bare stage, their torsos clad in strait jacket-ish garments. With the ramped-up kinetic energy of manic Coppelia dolls, they begin an incredible display of popping and locking their joints – technically it’s sensational, but there’s no celebratory funk here. The sense of constraint, of faltering, brings a curious pathos to the piece, although the end sequence in which the dancers freeze with their faces contorted by silent screams seems a little on the nose by comparison.

The same could be said, in part, of the second piece, Gray. Here, the ensemble of eight transform into a kind of frenzied militia, charged by convulsive currents of motion into ever-changing formations. Again it’s a tour de force, full of frustration, but the potency is diminished by the somewhat obvious repetition of gun-firing and grenade-throwing gestures.

In the final section, Blak, the scrim turns a deep and warm red, as the dancers let rip and release ecstatic waves of motion: percussive feet, rippling torsos, wonderful articulations in the hips and shoulders. It’s pure physical poetry – a joy to watch.

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Verdict
Wonderfully danced hip-hop triptych evoking a timely sense of angst and breakdown
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