Blaze, Peacock Theatre, London

Sorry to report, the Fire Brigade was not required
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The Independent Culture

Here's a thing: researchers at York University have discovered that we are born pre-programmed to dance. In experiments, 120 babies were exposed to a variety of sounds that included classical music, rhythmic beats and speech. Their responses were recorded by motion-capture technology and professional dancers drafted in to analyse their movements. And whaddyaknow? The babies moved a lot more when they heard music, and more vigorously when that music featured a strong pulse.

Any half-aware parent could have saved the researchers the trouble. Shifting to a lively musical beat is simply irresistible. How else to explain the streetdance phenomenon currently sweeping Britain's playgrounds, youth clubs and Saturday night TV? Theatreland isn't far behind, and yet still it struggles to find a truly satisfying format for presenting the dance form on stage.

Blaze, directed by Anthony van Laast as a follow-up to the rather mild-mannered Bounce, is at least a step in the right direction. In terms of hot-blooded energy, it certainly lives up to its name. In terms of covering the territory, too, it checks the boxes on most current styles – the familiar breaking, locking and popping, plus house, nu style and boogaloo, on which, for the purposes of identification, some of us could have done with a bit of help. That said, by the time the show gets to tour (which it surely will, given audiences' enthusiasm for this initial run) nu may have turned into old-school, given the viral speed of hip-hop innovation, its greatest strength.

The disappointment is the show's lack of focus, a result not so much of its decision to do without narrative and rely purely on dance and music, but more likely a result of its having no fewer than seven choreographers. Apart from an unfortunate detour into a section that cravenly mimics a TV dance contest, complete with cheesy MC and audience clapometer, there are some cracking turns from individual performers. Notable are puckish Tommy Franzen (a finalist on TV's So You Think You Can Dance) and leggy Jomecia Oosterwolde, a scribble of skinny limbs and whiplash hair – but their moments of glory are too brief to register fully, random flickers and hardly the promised blaze.

The same sense of haste afflicts the star b-boy team of "Neguin", "Mouse" and "Machine", whose reverse head-skids and elbow-bounces are eye-popping by any standards, but could do with more space to breathe. Perhaps hip hop's foray into theatre is merely exaggerating an inherent feature of the form, which by its nature is inflammatory and quick, eager to impress with the next impossible trick, a flick of a Zippo rather than a long burn.

The most memorable things in this interval-less 90-minutes turn out to be the video effects (again, the result of many hands), most spectacular in a trickling waterfall of dry ice – or was it steam, or even snow? – that morphs at last into a blazing, crackling pyre.



'Blaze': Peacock Theatre, WC2 (0844 412 4300) to 28 Mar. Breakin' Convention, Sadler's Wells' annual hip-hop festival, runs 1-3 May.



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