The best fitting description of what I witness at the Barbican would be ‘a night of inspiration’. The audience is given an insight into the mind of Creative Director and Concept Creator, Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante, through the much-anticipated return of Boy Blue Blak Whyte Gray. The evening is presented in two parts; Part One consists of Whyte and Gray, and Part two breaks through boundaries to end with Blak. As with all art, the opinions and deciphering of what we see will differ from person to person, but for this reviewer, this is a story of struggle, resistance, realisation and awakening.
The cast, almost all people of colour, begin with their movement being restricted and robotic, their actions so sharp and precise that it is almost as if we are watching androids navigate the space rather than real people. Ryan Dawson Laight’s costume design ties in with this idea, as the dancers wear white strait jackets, each identical as if they are in uniform, devoid of any variation. Gray tells a different story which propels us into the ranks of a resistance as the ensemble are led in drill movements, evoking the environment of an army training centre. Dickson Mbi plays the role of the sergeant through a call-and-response style of solo movement followed by the ensemble replicating this, and he shows them how and where to hold their weapons, along with correct fighting formation. The way in which the dancers enter the space during this particular piece is so wonderful to behold, as they slide on their backs with their arms held out in front of them, moving in a climbing motion, whilst their feet move in sync, pushing them through the space. Despite there being no set on the stage, which is sizeable at the Barbican, we are still taken to different locations simply through the use of space, Kenrick ‘H20’ Sandy MBE’s choreography spellbinding from beginning to end.
The crossover of dance styles spans from breakdance, krumping and finger tutting to contemporary and ballet, mirroring the fluidity in which the music moves from genre to genre, merging electronic with orchestral scores and traditional chanting, bringing the black African ancestral culture to the present day. Asante’s music is a cinematic experience and as I sit there, I can’t help but wonder, “Where can I get the soundtrack?” because the music itself tells a story, perfectly collaborating with Lee Curran’s lighting design. At times the lights pulse with the rhythm, almost as if the dancers are being energised by these beams of light, which also dictates where they are able to move to, as the spotlights cast sharp boxes onto the stage for them to stay within, again changing with each piece and ending with complete freedom of movement through the space.
Boy Blue Blak Whyte Gray is a triumph that depicts the struggles and resistance which people of colour face today whilst linking this to the struggles of their ancestors. That being said, there is a message of hope at the end of the evening; the message to take away being that we have come so far, and are made from what we endure.
Boy Blue Blak Whyte Gray is playing at The Barbican until 15 September 2018