Botis Seva's BLKDOG: Talent Redefined
***** 5 STARS
Be still my beating heart! I will never forget my first time visiting Sadler's Wells theatre and Botis Seva's BLKDOG is the reason for this. Art redefined in a way so entirely powerful whilst also being utterly devastating, BLKDOG is an exercise in humility and conscience, how masculine energy comes to terms with fatherhood, grief, religion, turmoil, and joy. The themes weigh heavy on the stage and the performers, talent redefined, serves to execute this with brilliance.
I have seen a lot of theatre, but BLKDOG is something different. Before the show began, there was a standing ovation happening in the pitch black. That is Seva's effect. BLKDOG, a concept made possible in 2018 following a curated triple bill in celebration of Sadler’s Wells 20th anniversary of their current theatre called Reckonings. After extensive acclaim, BLKDOG won an Olivier Award for Best New Dance Production. BLKDOG has entered into a new phase of pure perfection. Vital and gripping, BLKDOG is Botis Seva’s haunting commentary on surviving adulthood as a childlike artist. A genre-defying blend of hip hop dance and free form antics, BLKDOG explores the inner battlefield of an ageing artist trying to retain his youth whilst being responsible for new life and all that comes with.
Themes of regret, panic, sexuality are paramount in establishing a hallmark of the regressive paradigm that is central to BLKDOG, and are so finely intertwined with the physical strength on stage. Not a beat was missed, the performers were a true testament to Seva's brilliant and electric mind. There are voiceovers splashed on stage featuring both a child's voice and an adults voice, highlighting the battle between Seva's inner child and the very real themes of everyday life that test our humanity. There is a certain poetic greatness heightened with the grime and hip hop elements. If any readers are familiar with Stormzy's Heavy is the Head (Atlantic Records, 2019) album, BLKDOG is almost representative of a contemporary dance interpretation of the hit album. The infiltration of black artists, specifically black men into canonised spaces, signifies the continuation of something great happening in the arts and culture arena.
Every movement on stage executed by the performers is so picture perfect, each frame should be hung up in London's National Portrait Gallery. Punchy and saturated with energy, I was watching each movement like a hawk, completely captivated and enchanted. The beauty of contemporary dance lies in the choreographers ability to tell a story to the audience without the benefits of a script. Seva does this seamlessly. For an hour the audience tracks his journey, the ups and downs of modern life, the battles and inner turmoils that can strip our mind bare. The hedonism, the destruction, the journey from an innocent to a monster. The retribution, the faith that wraps its arms around us in dark times. The performers pound the stage with it all. It felt very silky, almost like a lucid fever dream sequence (or nightmare even) - you're waiting for the sharp twist of fate to occur that redefines your entire ending. The soundtrack is superb (music composer: Torben Lars Sylvest), every track matches the energy of the performances happening in the moment.
Co-produced by Far From the Norm, a performance company led under the hand of Botis Seva, serves to deconstruct street dance vocabularies, challenge perceptions of Hip Hop and create work that empowers marginalised people. If you're not familiar with their work, you need to be. All their work is original, vital and fearless and BLKDOG is breathtaking. In a way that will haunt me for quite some time. I left feeling a multitude of emotions ranging from "wow" to "what a show" to "I need to get my ass back in the gym and get like those performers!"
Far From The Norm Dance Artists:
Director & Choreographer Botis Seva
Executive Producer - Lee Griffiths
Senior Production Manager - Andy Downie
Production Manager & Relighter - Zoe Hunn
Touring Production Manager & Relighter - Andrej Gubanov
Company & Marketing Manager - Siân Gilling
Costume Designer - Ryan Dawson Laight
Costume Makers - Jordan Goertz, Julie Sayers, Kelsey Vickery, Kingsley Hall, Lou Petty
Lighting Designer - Tom Visser
Music Composer - Torben Lars Sylvest
Mix Engineer - Pär Carlsson
Research & Development Rehearsal Director - Ekin Bernay
Contribution Artists - Charlotte Clark, Clarissa Shulungu, Isaac Ouro-Gnao, Savanah Anais Rowe, Shiloh Seva, Tyrone Isaac-Stuart, Emily Jordan
BLKDOG is co-produced by Far From The Norm, Norrlandsoperan and Sadler's Wells.
Supported by Arts Council England. The creation of BLKDOG was generously supported by Kingston University, Laban Theatre, Siobhan Davies Dance and UEL Dance: Urban Practice Department.