Ivan Blackstock is the co-founder and choreographer of current UK Hip Hop champions Bird Gang.
Widely respected across the hip hop street dance scene, Blackstock is also quickly making a name for himself amongst mainstream dance professionals, having worked in the West End, on the big screen in Street Dance 2 and as Cher Lloyd’s principal dancer.
The extent of Blackstock’s popularity was proven when Sadler’s Wells was forced to add a second date to his show at the world’s number one international dance venue due to popular demand.
Blackstock describes much of his work as ‘Hip Hop Dance Theatre’, and with this in mind I knew I wasn’t to expect a usual street dance show, but I didn’t realise to what extent the stereotypes of this genre were to be challenged until the show began.
The first act set the tone for the rest of the evening as The Company of Elders, Sadler’s Wells resident over-60’s performance company showed off some classic hip hop moves to Bel Biv Devoe’s Poison.
As well as catching the audience’s attention by raising a few laughs, this light hearted performance also kick started what seemed to be a running theme for the evening; questioning the preconceptions of street dance.
The next piece continued to explore this theme with spoken word artist Josephine ‘Reality’ Rollings asking: ‘What does It mean to be Hip-Hop?’ Accompanied by four female dancers, Rolling’s witty and entertaining words follow the everyday life and thoughts of one of the dancers as a white female Hip Hop fan.
We visited many grey areas during the young woman’s search for an answer, as she deliberates whether she needs to be from the inner city, takes us through the pressures of choosing which style and brand of clothing to wear, whether she needs to be black, and if so, how black?
The following two pieces, Meth and Vice continue to explore issues young people face in their day-to-day lives. A group of young people are brainwashed and controlled by today’s media propoganda in Meth, and a young man struggles to say no to the pressures surrounding him to smoke weed and get drunk.
After the interval there was a noticeable shift in the theme, as the last remaining pieces BLK n GLD features dancers using handheld lights to create impressive visuals, and is very much a dance performance, pulling away from the story like structures of the earlier performances.
As the result of a commission by Back to the Lab, a bursary programme which challenged Blackstock to explore techniques outside of the Hip-Hop dance background, devised piece Reverie follows a young man in a dream like state.
A story not as obviously connected to Hip-Hop culture as the earlier pieces.
Whilst the show worked well as a showcase for some of the most promising young performers. As a piece of Hip-Hop dance theatre, with so many short pieces showing one after the other, interesting and important themes were often lost; leaving me intrigued to see a production which brings all the performances together as one piece of Hip-Hop Dance Theatre, creating a clearer message for the audience to come away with.