Hip-hop dance theatre is on the up: the Breakin’ Convention festival has become an important annual fixture, while shows such as Into the Hoods have played to packed houses in major theatres. The latest production to emerge is Pied Piper by Boy Blue (choreographer Kenrick Sandy and music producer Michael Asante). Having won an Olivier award in 2006 on its first outing at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, this 90-minute rush of energy has now transferred to the Barbican before embarking on a major national tour.
Pied Piper welds its astonishing physical feats and driving dynamic to a developing storyline. Sandy is the Pied Piper hired by town planners to rid the streets of “vermin” – gangs of hooded kids, their tracksuit tops sporting a distinctive “Asbo” logo. But when the bureaucrats refuse to pay, he returns to lead away the younger children, too.
Plot, though, is not the lifeblood of Pied Piper: the narrative stance is sketchy, motives and feelings remain unexplored. Instead, it’s the design, music, and above all the rigorously disciplined, rhythmically exact dancing that carry the show. Kenrick and his company combine B-boying with kung fu, injecting their physical prowess with a shot of mysticism.
The central battle scene of raids and face-offs is a full-on assault on the senses, and these dancers can slot somersaults into their performances as easily as shoulder shrugs. The energy is youthful, the style is from the street, and the performers – right down to the cute young kids – are total pros.