Wednesday, 22 October 2014

A Harlem Dream comes to the Young Vic

IT is not often that theatres devote whole shows to dance but the Young Vic is about to change that with a new production focusing on hip hop.
A Harlem Dream takes inspiration from the Harlem Renaissance, an African American cultural movement that emerged in response to the hardships of the Great Depression, and draws parallels with society today.
It has been choreographed by Peckham based Ivan Blackstock, founder of the hugely successful South London dance company BirdGang Dance.
Working with actor and fellow dancer Ukweli Roach and with an eclectic score composed by Mercury prize nominee Soweto Kinch, Ivan has created a 50-minute show in which a fusion of popping, locking and lindy hopping, burlesque performance, and cabaret combine to create a speakeasy atmosphere with a contemporary twist.
A Harlem Dream is something of a departure for Ivan in that as well as choreographing the piece he has also created the narrative which he admits has taken him out of his comfort zone though he says he's excited about the result.
"It was a challenge because it was the first time I have worked on something like this," he says. "There is a narrative that runs through it - so it's not all about the dancing and the music - and it took me into a different zone.
"But I have had a fantastic team around me, we have worked really hard and it's been great fun to do."
The show is part of a series of dance events at various venues in London by Dance Umbrella which celebrates choreography in all its forms.
Its artistic director Emma Gladstone approached Ivan after the pair had worked together on shows at Sadlers Wells.
"Emma asked me to do something for this festival that Dance Umbrella is organising," says Ivan.
"It's a risk but a good risk and very exciting to be part of especially as it's something different for me. The Young Vic has been amazing and I'd definitely like to do more work like this."
The show itself tells the story of a man from Jackson Mississippi who Ivan says has "big dreams" of making a better life for himself and his friend.
"They go to Harlem but things turn bad," he says. "I don't want to give it all away but it's got a deep story with themes of ambition, greed and love.
"I think we've come up with something that is interesting and dynamic and that will make the audience think about what they have seen as they leave the show, which for me is really important.
"This is a show that you think is going to be a fun hip hop show and then it takes a turn! It's not like a musical theatre show but an immersive experience."
And he says the Young Vic's Maria auditorium is the "perfect" place to stage it.
"The audience will feel very much part of it and will be incredibly close to the performers so I think it will work really well there," he says.
"What's great about it is that I hope it will bring new audiences to the Young Vic, and to hip hop and theatre in general by encouraging young people to take a chance on seeing something else there and bring more young people into theatre.
"I also hope it will encourage those who love theatre to look at hip hop in a better light. TV has put hip hop in a bad light but it isn't all about violence and this show explains the reason why it's how it is now.
"When it first came out, hip hop was more about positivity - bringing the community together. I hope A Harlem Dream will show people that it isn't really about twerking on TV, drugs and throwing money in the air but that we can tell an interesting, entertaining and intelligent story through hip hop."

A Harlem Dream is at the Young Vic in Waterloo until November 1. Tickets from £10. Visit or call 020 7922 2922.

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