Blak Whyte Gray at the Barbican
Directors Kenrick “H2O” Sandy MBE and Michael “Mikey J” Asante return with their Olivier nominated performance Blak Whyte Gray. Co-commissioned and co-produced by the Barbican, the show is a striking mixture of music and dance.
The first piece of the evening, Whyte, is comprised of fairly restrained motion, the dancers’ joints jerking and controlled. The trio appear silhouetted on stage in a square of light, while thumping electric music plays with interspersed jarring instrumentals. Amidst jolting movements of raised arms, heads pushing downwards, and with a simple shadowed background of woods created by lighting designer Lee Curran, the routine propels its dancers forwards, but not completely out of their containment of light. Leaving the audience with lasting impressions of silent screams and gaping mouths, the trio disappear into a fade out.
Gray is darker in nature. A dancer on his back propels himself with his feet, followed by two females and three males. Powerful images are cast, where the ensemble hold and aim invisible shotguns, then express vulnerability, arms to throats, mouths being suffocated. Though a specific story arc isn’t noticeable, it is these push and pull actions that permeate throughout, open to interpretation. Through Sandy’s precise and bold choreography, themes of identity, repression and oppression can be perceived, as a voice exclaims, “Is everybody in the world gonna die before someone finds the answer?”
The ensemble return with Blak, arguably the highlight of the set. A dancer repeatedly collapses as the group attempt to keep him balanced; the music has stopped, leaving the sound of panting. After the lead is draped in a long red cloth, he becomes strong and independent, dancing unaccompanied, combining graceful ballet with contemporary dance sequences. The dancers return, painting red on his face and chest, the music playing again with renewed energy as the group assemble together, this time all with paint marked on their faces – ultraviolet light stunningly revealing bold colours on the large tribal masks and the performers.
Thanks to original music by Asante, the piece truly comes alive in the final third, with Yeeeleh – a buoyant, highly danceable song – perfectly accompanying the hip-hop dance sequences. The composer’s original score and Sandy’s choreography are an unbeatable match, with pieces that reflect the complexities of our times; whether it’s identity crises, refugee displacement or gang violence, it is performances like these which bring a little light to the world.
Photo: Carl Fox
Blak Whyte Gray is at the Barbican from 12th September until 15th September 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for Blak Whyte Gray here: