REVIEW: PIED PIPER
By Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson
Friday, March 13, 2009.
After three years and with an Olivier Award to its name the return of Boy Blue Entertainments Pied Piper – A Hip Hop Dance Revolution is a dazzling triumph in front of a buzzing Barbican Theatre.
The Theatre Royal Stratford East production deserves its promotion and comes off superbly on the large stage where the 30 plus company of dancers have room to move. But be careful because the action takes place throughout the sparse set – a graffiti’d wall - the backdrop to a grimy scene of urban decay.
The evening’s fast moving 90 minutes, is divided into dozens of short and snappy scenes, which develop the narrative – but sticking closely to the fable isn’t the issue here. The story is difficult to pick up unless you know the legend.
The narrative of Robert Hamelin’s famous story is slightly disjointed but the energy and exuberance of the performers obscures this flaw; and the direction of the story soon becomes clear.
This is a society on the edge, in fear of violence and instability, under the perceived domination of violence prone, scowling, hooded youths. Who can save the day? Into this environment steps the vigilante justice of the Pied Piper (a charismatic and powerfully built Kenrick "H2O" Sandy).
Moulded to a modern-day parable of media driven hysteria, the moral of the story is delivered by Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante’s atmospheric hip hop influenced music, "H2Os" choreography, and the direction and set design of Ultz.
This innovative and in your face show displays versatile street dance routines - individual and group style – which tell a tale of defiance and aggression.
Using elements of hip-hop culture - break dancing, hip-hop and graffiti - all the modern street-dance styles - bodypopping, crumping, locking – expressed through battle and confrontation are displayed at a high level.
Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante’s fast and slow tempo music is loud, pulsating, manipulated expertly by dancers completely in control of their own expression.
The tale unfolds through set-piece synchronised martial arts inspired dance confrontations, as Pied Piper challenges and defeats his adversaries.
Each is a display of individual dance skill and passionately co-ordinated choreography of fluid movement and backbreaking, as well as gravity defying body contortions. It’s mesmerising. The question is asked: “is this freestyle?” But it’s actually the technical virtuosity of highly skilled and well-trained performers.
Each plays a role and occupies it totally, but all fuse perfectly as a whole company. Look at the way they gesture, slouch, grimace – the defiance of youth is switched on for the entire show. It’s impressive. The next generation even takes a bow in a lively scene of pre and early teenage dancers.
With crystal clear acoustics (Lee Evans) and atmospheric lighting (Jo Joelson) illuminating the set, multimedia video projections (Snakeoil Media) even find their way into the show.
With an nationwide tour to follow, this is a powerful, energetic showcase where the demands on the human body are pushed to the maximum. It’s a test that the exuberant company pass with honours.
Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson is The New Black Magazine's arts editor and a London-based freelance journalist.
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Pied Piper – A Hip Hop Dance Revolution
5 March – 14 March 2009
Boy Blue Entertainment
Performance time: 19:45 (7 8 14 Mar 14:30)
Choreography by Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy
Music by Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante
Directed and designed by ULTZ
A Theatre Royal Stratford East Production
Revival supported by barbicanbite09, London
Part of EAST, a festival celebrating the best of East London