Review: Blak Whyte Gray at the Norwich Theatre Royal

Blak Whyte Gray was a moving performance that made you feel exactly how I imagine the producers would want the audience to feel. The idea behind the production is complex, making the actual performance abstract and experimental — after all, trying to portray the nuances of identity and societal pressure on stage is no menial task. Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante managed to pull it off with his intense, rhythmic music and with exceptional talent in the lighting department.

The first part of the performance featured two dancers popping and locking to strong techno beats. The illusion of a prison was projected through the black and white beams that fell on them. This section presents the dancers trying to break out from a metaphorical, and perhaps literal, prison that is restricting their movement. The specific use of popping in this instance was brilliant, not just because both dancers were incredibly precise and sharp with each stroke, but because it successfully conveyed the effects of social oppression. A few seconds foreshadowed their path to freedom, where glorious orange light poured over them, the prison disappears, and the dancers moved fluidly to the soothing, Africa-inspired beats. The music and the lighting really allows the audience to grasp what the dancers are trying to convey.  

The second part was full of frustrated krumping, bursts of solo dances, and invisible guns. To me, it represented the dangers of individualism, when one tries to find one’s identity in isolation. This was one of the most emotional parts of the show, where each dancer was expressing their pain onstage. It also had the most impressive choreography. The dancers moved in and out of different formations, with individual dancers performing a few bars of individual choreography. The movements were fast, complex and exciting. The spotlights played a huge role in this section, as did the emotional music. The whole stage was washed in a kind of gray light, signifying the gloom that political and societal issues can trap one in.  

In the final stage of the performance, the dancers were moving towards discovering themselves through their culture. The orange glow constantly lit the stage. The movements in this section were more fluid, and the dancers were almost always dancing together, barring the lead man. The rest of them were surrounding him, physically supporting his body and guiding his movements. Metaphorically, it was clear to the audience that this was about finding yourself in the heritage that was given to you, and the community that you belong to. Sitting in the crowd in the theatre, you could feel the genuine unity and love that the dancers had for one another.

The last few minutes were some of intense happiness, and the dancers were revelling in the empowerment that immersing themselves in their culture provides. The most amazing stage and lighting design was revealed here: giant masks that lowered from the top of the stage, hanging above the dancers, and when a blue light washed over the theatre, they glowed with bright, neon colours, emulating the masks in African cultures. The dancers, whose faces had been painted with red paint, also glowed. The overall image of dancers with glowing red paint marks and huge, magnificent masks against a backdrop of bright red was a fantastic one. The dancers were visibly enjoying themselves, the music was uplifting and the whole scene was bright and radiant. It was a beautiful way to end such an incredible performance.

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November 2021
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