Chatty teenagers are practically vibrating with the effort of masking childish exuberance over being out in the City on a Friday night behind a carefully positioned mask of cool.
These are attentions often sought but seldom won over by artistic pursuits en masse, unless you’re the co-creators of hotter-than-thou hip-hop dance company Blue Boy Entertainment.
It has been more than a decade since East London choreographer Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy and producer Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante debuted the groundbreaking production Piped Piper: A Hip Hop Dance Revolution at the Theatre Royal in Stratford East.
The show had critics raving; toured nationally, scooped an Olivier Award, and popped and locked the hip-hop genre firmly into position as an art form in the mainstream consciousness.
It also earned Boy Blue an invitation to join the Barbican as Associate Artists, where they have worked on several more major productions, before joining director Danny Boyle to choreograph the ‘Frankie and June say thanks Tim…’ section at the 2012 London Olympics Opening Ceremony.
But perhaps Boy Blue’s greatest achievement has been in the development of hip-hop outreach programmes for young people across the UK, for which Sandy was awarded an MBE for services to dance and the community in The Queen’s New Years honours list earlier this month.
It is a legacy confirmed by the age and cool factor of the audience at Blak Whyte Gray, a triple bill kicking off the company’s current platform of shows, discussions and events at the Barbican aiming to uncover what’s next for the genre.
In true Boy Blue style, the show leaves nothing in reserve, putting some of Britain’s best hip-hop dancers through their paces when it comes to all-out physicality (a warfare-inspired sequence in ‘Gray’ is enough to leave the audience panting) set to thumping beats that seem to ricochet between the movements.
The show is without the strong narrative of Pied Piper or The Five & the Prophecy of Prana but rather aims to address some of the issues faced by many of the young people Boy Blue counts amongst its fold; information saturation, the increasing pace of life in the digital realm asking is there such a thing as black and white anymore?
Asante said: “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.”
Big issues and plenty of grey areas, but as the first four rows sit enraptured by the spectacle, the one thing that does appear black and white is Boy Blue’s role in exploring them.
Boy Blue Entertainment’s series of workshops, labs and productions at the Barbican concludes on 29 January. Visit barbican.org.uk/theatre for details.