As someone who is not overly ‘into’ Manga, Martial Arts or poorly dubbed movies, I was invited to attend the Grand Theatre’s newest offering; The Five & The Prophecy of Prana, this week.
The show was commissioned by the Barbican and Derry-Londonderry City of Culture 2013 and produced by Boy Blue Entertainment with Dance Touring Partnership (DTP). DTP have brought a number of high energy eclectic dance performances to Blackpool such as Nobulus to name but one. Prana is a juxtaposition of dance styles, music and hip hop theatre explored through the pages of a manga comic strip book.
In short, the story describes how an evil emperor used sorcery to harness the five elements; wood, fire, earth, metal and water, and ruled for decades, or until a group of warriors known as the Guardians of Prana defeated him and split his soul into five orbs. We, as an audience, joined this legend at a time when new Guardians were to be appointed and trained by Wang Tang- the only remaining Guardian still in possession of his orb after fellow guardian, the extremely sensual, Soo Lin and her comrade Choo Fang, began to collect the elements, restoring the power to rule the world.
We then cut to a court room scene where we witnessed the sentencing of five lost young souls (or we might use the slang term ASBOs nowadays). All cocky, all full of bravado but all un-disciplined. Wang Tang saw the prophecy once again and took on these new delinquents to save the world from Soo Lin. The journey to create these new Guardians is an explosive and dynamic display of dance disciplines which are all strong and interwoven to perfection. Dancers flowed in and out of contemporary, ballet, street, abstract, krump, vogueing, breakin, locking, martial arts and hip hop theatre. The intricacy and seamlessness of these genres were brought together by Kenrick (the choreographer and co-director) in an extremely impressive and seemingly effortless fashion; like Chow Yun Fat in Crouching Tiger dangling off a tree branch. The resulting outcome of such magical choreography was the graduation and distribution of the five elements to each new Guardian. If I had my old academic cap, I would have thrown it in the air to celebrate.
From a staging perspective we weren’t short of eye-catching manga comic book backdrops and animation either, with easily manoeuvrable shapes and forms installed on stage to create new environments and extend the video projection spectacle alongside the dance. Although this framed the dancers wonderfully and helped the storytelling, at times this did feel a little disconnected through some more of the static performance elements such as the early court room scene, but it was enhanced by the deliberate tongue in cheek dubbing of the actors over the narrator.
The second half, I felt, was stronger than the first with clear storytelling and battles between good versus evil. Most notable was the sequence played out by one of our new Guardians and the ‘Ghost’- an intimidating masked bad guy who was like a whippet around the stage (an illusion played by multiple performers in identical costume). It became stronger as a theatre piece when clearer breaks and time appeared within the intricacies of the dance. Because there is so much juxtaposition of styles, the time inbetween was key in preventing the show looking like a high quality showcase as opposed to a theatre production.
Overall, I was amazed at the physicality of the performers and the ability to sustain high energy dance choreography throughout the piece, which lasted over two hours. It quite simply is incredible to witness dancers with such knowledge and capability in their bodies, which comes in part through extreme discipline and passion, but also, I feel, because Boy Blue Entertainment strikes me as a thriving atmosphere for dancers to aspire to be the best.
The interesting addition to the Grand Theatre programme currently is the Everybody Dance Now Project- a partnership with Dance Touring Partnership. As part of this Blackpool’s own Michelle Ramsey, founder of Urban Dance Project, was successful, after an audition process, in working with Boy Blue to bring back new skills to Blackpool and implement them with local groups over a series of workshops. This resulted in a hard hitting town centre Ninja Flash Mob to promote Prana followed by an inclusive and wonderfully open use of the Grand Theatre’s Lawrence Studio for young dancers to come together and have a dance off and showcase choreography. As a legacy from Breaking Convention that came to Blackpool in June, I feel this is a step in the right direction for the Grand to enrich audiences before they actually take their seats in the main theatre. It heightens the overall experience for all ages when going to the theatre and complements a contemporary way of thinking about historical spaces and their future engagement.
Further to this, the Grand is sustaining the after show Q&As with the companies that come to Blackpool, which I feel (although often low in attendance) is crucial in allowing us to feel closer to what we are seeing and understand more about the origins of people, productions and ideas. This particular Q&A was led by one of Urban Dance Project’s young dancers, giving the chance for young people to interact directly with professional touring dancers……just great!
To find out more:
Boy Blue Entertainment: www.boyblueent.com |Twitter: @BoyBlueent #thefive | Facebook: BoyBlueEnt
Dance Touring Partnership: www.dancetouringpartnership.co.uk | Twitter: @dancetp #TheFive
To find out where the Guardians have been and are going visit: www.TheFiveTour.co.uk
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