Sunday, 13 October 2019

DANCE REVIEW: Some Like It Hip Hop - The Lowry Theatre, Salford.

“Some Like It Hip Hop”, well that’s not true based on the audience reaction tonight. Correction: “All Like It Hip Hop”. This piece of Dance Theatre was brought to us by ZooNation: The Kate Prince Company.

They were founded in 2002 and are renowned for devising and choreographing full length narrative dance productions borrowing from hip hop culture and music. ZooNation Artist, Rowen Hawkins recently worked with young dancers from the (Manchester based) 0161 studios to create a special and unique pre-show performance.

The opening performance was called “The Spice Of Life”. It played on the notion of oppression as explored in the main show this evening. They all had the idea to create a short piece which presented their perspective on the oppressive state that drugs culture has on society. In particular, looking at this through the lens of a Spice epidemic in Manchester. It was a strong opener that I could have kept watching for longer.

There were some lovely ideas for choreography in it. Movement symbolising notions of connection, reaching out, supporting and looking after one another. Similar to the ensemble in the main show tonight, this group of young dancers each had their own virtuosic moment under the spotlight. On the other side of the coin, they suddenly danced in dynamic, synchronised unison. They brought inspirational energy and youthful vibrancy. On top of that (to quote the lyrics of one of the songs) they possessed Northern soul and grit. What a start. Already so talented at their age, their execution of dance moves were naturally impulsive and reactive.

In the opening announcement to switch off mobile phones, The Narrator referred to “Some Like It Hip Hop” as an example of Hip Hop Theatre – encouraging us to make some noise if we wanted to. ZooNation’s style of theatre, I have to say, is distinctive. Dancing is always at the heart and centre of it all but the performance was multi-disciplinary in approach. The performers sung musical theatre numbers, acted, beatboxed, and performed spoken word. It was high energy eclecticism on show. Not only that but they manipulated the audience and performer relationship by inviting us to be active and not passive when watching it.

This was a story of love, mistaken identity, and uprising in a patriarchal society as enforced by The Governor. Two female characters, Jo-Jo and Kerri, were banished from the city. They only had one option: to sneak back into the city disguised as men. They soon proved their worth and capabilities and in a romantic love twist, Jo-Jo fell for Simeon, the nerd of the city.

We found out that The Governor never used to be as dark and brooding as this, actually it was because his wife died that this bleakness and oppressive regime was imposed. Though, I’m starting to have second thoughts around this. The Governor clearly loved his wife dearly so why would he want to form a social system in which men held primary power in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property – where women were servants to men and were treated disrespectfully? I suppose grief can do strange things to people. It just seems to me a potential oversight and plot hole. Even if this was an illogical response to the suffering he had endured, it wasn’t clear enough.

Anyway, other than that the story was relevant and timely to our world which continues to promote feminism and champion gender equality. The soundtrack held on to the original roots of hip hop music influenced by Reggae and Rap. The choreographic language was layered with a rich variety of styles and elements ranging from African dance, Street dance, gymnastics, popping, locking, breaking, Boogaloo, top rock, footwork, freezes, and power moves. Combining this with physical theatre and character movement work, there was a wealth of potential for creative and wide-ranging expression and that certainly was achieved tonight. You only had to come to that conclusion by gauging the audience’s reaction.

However, there was an issue with pacing for some scenes. I felt parts of the story like the cross-cutting love scenes went on for too long. Despite some nice humour featuring in it. Also, the music felt too minimal in texture at times so it lessened the impact of a scene. On the other hand, one of the most beautiful stand out scenes, fusing dance and music effectively, was the scene which uncovered The Governor’s grief. The Governor appeared stuck, juddering in the same spot in shock; trapped in a vicious repetitive cycle of sorrow and anguish.

Set designer, Ben Stones had created a factory-looking set with a cold and industrial aesthetic. While Johanna Town’s lighting complimented this dismalness with her choice of colours but it eventually switched to a design conveying unadulterated joy; lighting that also danced with a life of its own.

Overall: this was empowering, joyous, and accomplished Hip Hop Theatre - even with some of the minor criticisms I mentioned. The whole production ran like clockwork and was a well-oiled machine. To quote what the audience member kept saying behind me, if you’re thinking of seeing this with someone you know there is only one thing you need to say… “Let’s go!”

Reviewer - Sam Lowe
on - 12/10/19

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