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Diversity Connected 2022 Tour

Creator, director and choreographer Ashley Banjo, musical compositions Fraser Bennett
Diversity
London Palladium

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Diversity Connected Credit: Chris Davis Studio

Diversity is back with more than a bang. They are excited, their audiences are excited, the atmosphere is electric: Ashley Banjo has them in the palm of his hand. It is his show: he is the creator, and the inspiration. A tour of 34 venues across the UK and Ireland, which began March 17 and continues till June 19, stops off at the London Palladium just for a few days—they have the world to conquer. 79 shows in total, the mind boggles at their stamina.

I was expecting a dance show, a hip hop show, but what I see is a variety show, family entertainment—the audience is made up of three generations, even toddlers are allowed out late. And does Banjo know how to connect with them—this could be his living room.

Connect is the theme, in every sense, electronic, advanced technology, a huge cinema screen projecting adverts, promotion for the company, rehearsals with children, family photos, a Zoom call with his mum to show off his new baby, and more. Warm hearted, dynamic, loud and proud. Technology that connects us, and that got us through the lockdowns, and technology that can undermine us if we are not careful. YouTube, viruses, memes, trolls, satnav, shopping on tap, ANI the digital assistant, the cloud, and more... Listen to the original ring tone… remember that…

Technology that has us looking at the universe and the metaverse… think on that. Banjo speaks and explains his concept—is he doing a ‘Brian Cox’… it’s a subject that obviously excites him, the evolution of smart technology, the statistics of it. Virtual reality is integrated into dance. He makes a very confident lecturer, knows how to sugar the information with sci-fi, pyrotechnics and SFX. Banjo is a magician conjuring up more new tricks.

Get those phones out and shine the light, and nearly everyone does. There are joyous shouts, audience participation as Banjo shows us how the sound mix is created (available to buy with the merchandise at the end). And a ‘Jimi Hendrix’ guitarist by the name of Mafro who plays like a demon possessed on top of the big computer box props with the fires of the sun behind him.

The cinema surround sound is deafening, the supportive cheers add to the volume, the huge screen behind the dancers dwarfs the fifteen (four female) performers on the stage below. The light show blinds and dazzles to the point where one can barely see the performers.

And it's the performers I want to see. They are as sharp as their leader’s razor hairline. Great technique, acrobatics, athleticism, musicality, but above all the slick routines, honed to the nth degree. There’s a cables cat’s cradle number, dancing in the rain and an incongruous Charlie Chaplin take off for three of them. There’s a solo dance with drones, which is exciting, and a comic dance in children’s dressing up outfits.

From the advanced to the ridiculous, they are comfortable with sending themselves up, true entertainers, safe in their skill sets. A mixed bag of invention, I imagine Banjo’s brain pinging like a pinball machine during creation. I remember when they started, and the young Perri Kiely with his big Afro hair was outstanding then—the Afro is gone and hasn't he grown—time passing—but he’s still on winning form, especially on that Hoverboard Segway machine.

And for those who don’t know the trajectory of Diversity’s growing success, there’s a recap on screen of the past years down to the BAFTA. An amazing success story: from dancers to award winners to TV stars, both Banjo brothers, Ashley and Jordan, hosts and judges of talent shows. And yes, there’s brotherly banter.

“We are Diversity,” Ashley reminds us, a talented promoter. He plays and charms us very well. And uses his platform to profile George Floyd and Black Lives Matter. There’s a powerful riot police number, and talk of climate change, ecology and pollution—Banjo ranges far and wide.

Jonzi D is in the audience as is Andry Oporia of ZooNation. I wonder what they make of it... I am exhausted. I’d have been happy to see the dancers without all that distracting showbiz pizzazz and commercialism. But the captive hyped-up audience apparently begs to differ. The show is critic-proofed.

Reviewer: Vera Liber