Pied Piper

Boy Blue
Date reviewed: 18th March 2009
The Hippodrome, Birmingham

I’m getting a little bored of permanently writing glowing reviews of all the dance I see in the West Midlands. There’s nothing better than a rubbish show for a critic to really sink their teeth into for a nice juicy rant. Unfortunately for me, however, the leading street dance company in the UK isn’t going to give you much to vent your verbal spleen on.
 
London-based Boy Blue’s Pied Piper does pretty much what it says on the tin; it’s, yep, the old folk tale of the Pied Piper. As you’ve never seen it before; however. I’m not sure that the Brothers Grimm imagined their eponymous hero somersaulting around in a boiler suit with his rubber-limbed counterparts ‘Eagle’ and ‘Scorpion’ to rid the streets of a mass of hoodies, but more fool them. Boy Blue did, and deliver a breathtaking display of physical prowess.
 
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The most stunning thing about the Pied Piper is, as you would expect, the sheer acrobatics of the performers. Both Kenrick Sandy’s choreography and Ultz’s direction display an effective interplay between individuals and group movement. The solo dancers, including the mind-bogglingly flexible Sandy himself, have plenty of chance to show off their prodigious back-flipping, wall-leaping, head-spinning talent, whilst the group pieces are striking for their sheer size and precision.
 
There’s an enormous sense of energy from the dancers; with a commitment to each movement, big or small. Sandy in particular is poetry in motion – with a clear understanding of physical storytelling and using the body as an art form literally from fingertips to toes. There is a degree of charismatic cockiness that goes into street dance, but I have to say I did think that there was a slight element of self-indulgence in Sandy’s choreography: casting himself as the ultimate hero; a Christ-like figure who single-handedly vanquishes hundreds of hoodies in a series of hot-shot dance-offs, outwits the cartoonishly clueless bureaucrats, wins over the children, generally saves the day – oh, and has a load of scantily-clad women draping themselves all over him. (Not sure I remember them in the Grimm version, unless there was a tag line that I missed? ‘The Pied Piper of Hamlin – and His Bitches’ … )   
 
That said, there is a competitive, confident chutzpah to street dance and this element is also appropriately worked in to the show with much highly physical dance/fighting, contention and separating the men from the boyz.
The show is strong on visual images: the horde of identikit hoodies, with ‘ASBO’ emblazoned on their tracksuits all moving as an angry mass, or the mirroring of the Piper’s exquisite snake-like movements by the ‘nest of vipers’, for example. Added to this the steamroller urban score from Michael Asante and you’ve got one of the most heavily atmospheric theatrical portrayals of urban street life around at the moment.   
 
Bizarrely, one of the highlights of the show are the children. I had kind of forgotten that the Pied Piper story does actually involve children and initially groaned silently inside when the gaggle of little ones were led on. However, all associations with nauseous children’s choirs were blown out of the window within moments – these kids kicked ass. Clearly all little Sandys in the making, they leapt, span, back-flipped and twisted with as much verve and attitude as the adult performers – and not a cutesy grin in sight.
 
The downside was what they did with the story itself; there wasn’t enough ingenuity or punchy references to make this a really hard-hitting tale. Simply replacing rats with hoodies does not a clever alternative look at today’s troubles make. The character portrayals were somewhat 1-dimensional, with the Governors so ridiculously caricatured to be effective. Although it was atmospheric, I don’t feel that it delivered enough of an impact in terms of its message. I’d like to see Boy Blue creating their own tale, doing something more creative with it and rolling it out with their unique impressive relish.  
 
That said, the moves themselves are really the centrepiece for this show, and are suitably spectacular.
 
– Fiona Handscomb
 
Until 21st March
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