A Night with Boy Blue, Barbican, London, review: The powerhouse brand at its warmest and and most inclusive

One hundred and twenty-nine dancers of all ages and body types fill the stage for this big, confident hip-hop showcase 

Zo Anderson
Monday 04 June 2018 14:07
Kids  Uip  Vop perform as part of 'A Night With Boy Blue' at the Barbican
Kids Uip Vop perform as part of 'A Night With Boy Blue' at the Barbican

There’s a joyful sense of community in A Night with Boy Blue. From flirty club dancing and political-edged choreography to routines for the very youngest dancers, the hip-hop company have a shared power and a sense of celebration. Switching cheerfully between polished professionalism and family gathering, it’s a big, confident showcase.

Very big: there are 129 dancers on stage, from eight-year-olds to award-winning adults. Founded in 2001 by choreographer Kenrick “H20” Sandy and composer Michael “Mikey J” Asante, Boy Blue have built a powerhouse brand, blending hip-hop dance with striking visuals and a sense of theatre.

Now associate artists at the Barbican, their high-profile collaborations include the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics, while their film Emancipation and Expressionism, filmed by Danny Boyle, is on the GCSE dance syllabus.

A Night with… is an overview of the whole organisation, which means it flips from the socially-engaged pieces Karnival 2.0 and Project R.E.B.E.L. to end-of-year display. When the youngest kids come on, the audience oohs for their cuteness, but what stands out is their discipline. The dancing is taut and precise, without losing personality or turning them into over-drilled robots. They look like real children, dancing.

Hip-hop dance is celebrated for its battles, its acrobatic moves. Boy Blue has plenty of star soloists, who get their moment in the spotlight, but it also has a terrific sense of group movement. Sandy moves his large cast in blocks and patterns, waves of dancers flooding the stage. A few numbers rely too heavily on their gimmicks – some UV lighting or goth-fantasy costuming. Others turn up the intensity, setting single dancers against the driving throng.

Moving up through the ranks, there’s an appealing diversity to the company, with a variety of ages and body types. Girls and boys, men and women share the same athletic drive.

One of the best dances here, Black Love, has a gorgeous sense of a night out. Hands and shoulders shimmying, a young man approaches a woman, who dances briefly with him but quickly moves on: not for her. With a second man, she flows into a sensuous duet, all swung hips and winding bodies. When Sandy appears in this scene, he harks back to an earlier generation of music. His solo has a goofy edge, drawing in the younger men with a sense of affectionate nostalgia.

This summer, the company will return to the Barbican with Asante’s Outliers and the superb Blak Whyte Gray – Boy Blue at its grittiest. A Night with… is the company at its warmest and most inclusive.

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