Technical excellence provided a sheltered Oxford with a taste of Hip Hop at its finest.  Boy Blue Entertainment have knowingly commanded the Hip Hop stage in the UK for some time now, always producing the latest ideas with the latest talent of the Hip Hop world. The Five and the Prophecy of Prana simply adds another depth to what this already Hip Hop encompassing company can produce, creating an amalgamation of numerous Hip Hop styles with a martial arts focus.

Leading you through the story is a commentary enhanced with imagery of anime design, some of which is crafted by world-class Japanese anime artist, Akio Tanaka. Photos of cast members were provided for the artist to incorporate into the would-be Japanese animated backdrop that frames the spectacle.  Japan, along with the martial arts, plays a huge role in the creating of this production as well as the sole inspiration.  For an audience member with no previous interest in anime the story line is difficult to decipher, especially when the effects would make most people strain to hear. The speech was effective in creating the atmosphere and also the ideas in which the piece is based upon, however it would be wrong to assume that the audience members could completely understand even the language of it.

Artistic director Kenrick Sandy’s choreography dominates the production with a constant reference to the set scripture of movement and martial art hand sequence ‘Kata’. The training he experienced, along with other cast members, with the Shaman Monks of Manga, intensified Kenrick’s inspiration from Japanese martial art, recognised on stage as this production emerged. It was interesting to learn later that most, if not all, of the cast had never had a formal martial arts training or background. They therefore “faked it” very well.  This said, one of the performers, Frank Wilson, described it as “choreographically the hardest thing I have ever done.”  Regardless of whether the movement was to the highest standard of martial artistry, it can be defined as piece of performative excellence due to the outstanding level of technique and synchronicity in performing the choreography.  As a result the dancers fully delivered their director’s intentions.

The animalistic features that were given to each of ‘the Five’ were embodied and enhanced by the technical expertise in their select areas of dance.  Each member represented an animal and in turn that animal was represented by a dance specific. To the dancer’s eye these were evident with the highest quality of technique and exceptional skill displayed. Two of the most prominent displays were B-Boy artist Kofi Mingo, as Flinch and House dance artist Frankie Johnson as Stylouse. The intricate footwork and funk style executed through Johnson’s body provided clear moments of individuality away from the synchronicity of the more choreographed moments. Equally Kofi Mingo’s impeccable talent to move across the stage off of his head and enable equally challenging poses in upside down, awkward positions demonstrated the sheer strength and discipline that Boy Blue Entertainment artists possess.  It is also difficult to continue without the brief mention of Michèle Rhyner’s unbelievable flexibility that strengthens the quality of her character on stage. There is a clear focus and discipline creating full audience understanding of the success of this company.

It is nice, for once, to see an artistic director, especially one that is so driven by the making of choreography, allowing each cast member to take ownership within his/her specialised style. The opportunity ‘to shine,’ provides the audience with an insight into each dancer professionally but also allows the dancers to showcase their personal abilities and strengths within dance. However, the merging of each individual into the unison of martial artistry poses great difficulty, and furthermore, room for critique. The showcasing of artists is a great opportunity but it is debatable as to whether or not this is the time and place for such action. There were moments where the incorporation of such styles with the martial arts focus was questionable, but these were quickly forgotten in appreciation of the talent before you. This may be something that Kenrick Sandy could challenge further or integrate deeper in order to bridge the gap.  An inspiring performance showcasing some of the UK’s finest in technique, strength and diversity.

Laura Duthie

10th November 2014