Blak Whyte Gray: Personal... and Political
Hip-hop keeps it real. In its many forms it can be heard, seen, felt at concerts, nightclubs, political protests—just about any communal gathering. What makes it so real? "The beautiful thing about hip-hop is that it requires you," explains Boy Blue composer and co-founder Michael "Mikey J" Asante. "It requires your experience, your energy…the art form doesn't discriminate." Since its inception in 2001 in London, the Olivier Award–winning company has proved that hip-hop can't be ignored. Asante and Boy Blue choreographer Kenrick "H20" Sandy have been a driving force in confirming hip-hop's status as a living, evolving art form that reflects our changing times.
This November, the company's Blak Whyte Gray will make its U.S. premiere at the White Light Festival, adding to its growing list of performance venues ranging from the Edinburgh International Festival to the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony. Blak Whyte Gray features a program of three linked works, and is the company's first, full-length abstract composition. It gives expression to a contemporary society filled with tension, and, while unmistakably political, it intentionally leaves room for interpretation. As Asante says, "Whilst our work has always responded in some way to the issues that young people face today, this is the first time we express these thoughts artistically on such a large scale. It feels like an important time to be talking about these things: Black Lives Matter; the socio-political climate post-referendum; inequality in our society and the role of social media."
Blak Whyte Gray poses questions, not answers.
Blak Whyte Gray is personal, reflecting on perspective. The piece probes Asante's and Sandy's experiences and observations of the world, suggesting a journey from oppression to personal awakening and a celebration of culture. Virtuosic choreography blends different hip-hop styles like popping, krumping, breaking, as well as moves evoking different African dance traditions. Powerful imagery is complemented by sharp lighting and a transfixing, multilayered score, with pulsing electronics infused with traditional chants, demonstrating how our personal and political histories shape our perceptions.
Central to the White Light Festival is a celebration of art's capacity to illuminate the dimensions of our interior lives. Dealing with ambiguity and the role of individual perspectives, Blak Whyte Gray poses questions, not answers. The piece does not speak to race explicitly, but rather to the human experience and how it varies depending on personal experience. The power of Boy Blue's work is precisely its abstract nature. The dancers leave it to the audience to draw their own conclusions and find their own realness.
Laurel Toyofuku is Manager of Global Partnerships at Lincoln Center Education.