Hip Hop and artist Sting are hardly syn­onym­ous. How­ever, on chilly Wed­nes­day night in cent­ral Lon­don, a red car­peted entranced Pea­cock Theatre gave a cho­reo­graph­ic fury of Hip Hop, Con­tem­por­ary, Lyr­ic­al, Jazz and dance theatre to Sting’s music­al antho­logy.

Mes­sage in a Bottle, cho­reo­graphed by Kate Prince, is now part of an impress­ive leg­acy of Prince’s West End-Hip Hop artistry. These pieces have giv­en Hip Hop Theatre it’s much deserved legendary status; with pro­duc­tions such as Some Like It Hip Hop and Into the Hoods, this addi­tion stands along­side these artist­ic heavy­weights in con­tent­ment.

The nar­rat­ive, con­struc­ted by Prince’s con­ceived thread of music­al num­bers, tells a story with a slick­ness as though Sting wrote each song with this inten­tion. It spins a tale of a fam­ily that trans­itions to refugee status as a res­ult of war and at the centre of this nar­rat­ive, three sib­lings entrench the stage with their exper­i­ences of love and hard­ship.

The ensemble; made up of Zoon­a­tion vet­er­ans and dis­tin­guished, early career high­fly­ers; unequi­voc­ally presen­ted an effort­less, tech­nic­al piece of art. Every pirou­ette and split leap landed as well as every kip up (one land­ing on one leg by Tommy Fran­zen- Some­thing I’ve nev­er wit­nessed before!) It was a geni­us amal­gam­a­tion of dance styles and genres.

The show opens with Desert Rose and some most phe­nom­en­al hip hop solos you will ever wit­ness on stage. Each spot­light gives us a taster of what’s to come how­ever expect­a­tions are quickly and delight­fully demol­ished by the second. The cho­reo­graphy and its pre­cise exe­cu­tion undoubtedly makes the view­er listen and exper­i­ence Stings music in a way they’ve nev­er envi­sioned. A refresh­ing and con­tem­por­ary reviv­al of sorts, show­ing the fluid­ity of Hip Hop dance as a lan­guage and how it has the abil­ity to reside wherever it sees fit.

What was human­ising about this per­form­ance was the illus­tra­tion the many harsh real­it­ies of what refugees face: pris­on, traf­fick­ing, migra­tion, sep­ar­a­tion. Lol­ita Chakrabarti’s exquis­ite dram­at­urgy allowed the dan­cers to emote as well as nail all the steps, enga­ging the diges­tion of the polit­ic­al angles of the work. A light nod to cur­rent affairs is Hip Hop’s way of gently echo­ing the socio-eco­nom­ic and polit­ic­al cli­mate through art and expres­sion.

The explor­a­tion of homo­sexu­al­ity with­in a con­tem­por­ary Hip Hop con­text was one of the many stand out parts of Mes­sage in A bottle. A sen­su­al and ath­let­ic duet between Tommy Fran­zen and Samuel Bax­ter reminds or edu­cates the ori­gin­al mes­sages of Hip Hop’s incep­tion of unity/fighting minor­ity oppres­sion and not its present homo­phobic mis­in­ter­pret­a­tions. I found myself search­ing for more of these moments par­tic­u­larly noti­cing how gendered some of the roles were. The cast are more than cap­able of depict­ing more nuanced, con­tem­por­ary iden­tit­ies rather than archetyp­al bin­ar­ies.

The tech­nic­al pro­fi­ciency of an array of dif­fer­ent dance styles was ever present but the Lock­ing cho­reo­graphy to Shad­ows of the Rain, clev­erly accom­pan­ied with impress­ive light­ing by Nata­sha Chivers was a bril­liant sur­prise. Being “locked up” as Shad­ows of the Rain was a pris­on scene was an intel­li­gent yet subtle treat for all of those present.

The inter­ac­tion and integ­ra­tion of the set fur­ther high­lighted the skill and pre­ci­sion of the ensemble as they hung, swung and weaved with the set tak­ing the cho­reo­graphy to a great­er intric­acy and an ever demand­ing phys­ic­al­ity.

Mes­sage in a Bottle is poetry in motion. The songs in isol­a­tion maybe tell a dif­fer­ent story but this col­lec­tion of highly craf­ted Sting clas­sics and re-record­ings with guest vocal appear­ances from Bever­ley Knight and Lyn­val Gold­ing, made this mem­oir one that will stand the test of time. Sting, I am sure, is incred­ibly happy with this dis­play of dynam­ism and most import­antly the mul­tiple overt and subtle mes­sages this show is send­ing the world about its inhab­it­ants and of course Hip Hop. Go and watch it!!

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Valerie Ebuwa

Valer­ie “wing girl” Ebuwa is a freel­ance dance artist and yoga teach­er from East Lon­don. She is cur­rently dan­cing for 3 con­tem­por­ary dance com­pan­ies and is one of the found­ing mem­bers of Eclectics Dance and CEO of Hip Hop House.

About Valerie Ebuwa

Valerie "wing girl" Ebuwa is a freelance dance artist and yoga teacher from East London. She is currently dancing for 3 contemporary dance companies and is one of the founding members of Eclectics Dance and CEO of Hip Hop House.