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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