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The Five and the Prophecy of Prana

Created and directed by Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy and Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante
Boy Blue Entertainment
Barbican Theatre

Old, new, borrowed, blue, Barbican Artistic Associate Boy Blue Entertainment’s new narrative dance show, The Five and the Prophecy of Prana, is all about fusion: film with theatre, hip-hop with kung fu, Japanese Manga comics and Kodo drumming with Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante’s heavy beat electronic urban sound, earth with air, East with West, Shaolin monk philosophy with London street, past with present.

Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy’s choreography (with solos input from Tommy Franzén, Michèle ‘Paleta’ Rhyner and Bradley ‘Bradz’ Charles) flows like water, one minute silky smooth, the next fast and furious, b-boying, tutting and krumping, and requires little narrative, but narrative there is.

On the page the synopsis overwhelms with its seeming complexity, on the stage it is quite clear, even the flashbacks, though the out of synch lip synchronization causes hilarity in my young companion. A mystical avatar universe, or is this deliberate mockery of a particular Darth Vader-ish distorted voiceover trailer convention?

The essence of The Five and the Prophecy of Prana is the fight of good over evil—isn’t it always in the comic book tradition? We can learn from the past, from the wise Wang Tang (Tommy Franzén), who isn’t without his own demons—alcohol.

Give someone a purpose and they can be reformed. Deny someone love and they can turn to the bad. Unite and be a force for good. Collaboration is the name of the game. Redeem the past—it can be done.

In the present day, five insolent delinquents are sentenced to training for two years by Wang Tang in kung fu discipline. Three boys and two girls off the streets, drug dealers (the girls), shoplifters and so on, each with individualistic physical presence and style, comic and hard, immature and sound.

Each of the five represents one of the earth’s elements, which makes up a collective soul, and each has an animal daemon spirit not unlike the ones on Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, or in Eastern philosophy.

On this hang the intense solos (Duwayne Taylor’s krumping, Bradley ‘Bradz’ Charles’s b-boying, Michèle ‘Paleta’ Rhyner’s rubber body), and the fighting duel duets: the slight Franzén against the dreadlocked Frank Wilson (Choo Fang), the swift David against Goliath.

Winner of this year’s Critic Circle’s National Dance Award for Outstanding Performance in Modern Dance (Male), Tommy Franzén (Some Like It Hip-Hop and Russell Maliphant’s The Rodin Project) is for me the star of the show, which is not to take away from the collective.

Japanese Manga artist, Akio Tanaka’s, artwork, animated and given depth by Yeast Culture as part of their set and production design, projected on to three overlapping screens and diamond shaped moveable stage props, is beautiful.

A vast cinema screen of Manga comic strips with captions – another reason for dropping the voiceover—gorgeous landscapes and interiors of Japanese Edo era homes give way to modern neon bar scenes complete with urinals lit in Tenori-on / Yayoi Kusama spots.

What need for words when the dance moves, the visuals, matched by the dramatic cinematic score, tell the instructive tale so well? Two hours with one interval would benefit from a little contraction, too.

The first tight hour-long half loses momentum in the forty-minute second—eighty minutes minus interval might have delivered a mightier punch. But this is a minor quibble. Though hip-hop has a limited dance vocabulary still, its development is evident. I couldn’t get enough of Tommy Franzén’s martial arts skills.

Co-commissioned by the Barbican and Derry—Londonderry City of Culture 2013 and co-produced by Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg, The Five and the Prophecy of Prana is a fabulous family show (why do I want to call it Five Children and It?).

Performed by Jumar Aben, Bradley ‘Bradz’ Charles, Tommy Franzén, Xena Gusthart, Kayla Lomas-Kirton, Vicky ‘Skytilz’ Mantey, Kofi ‘Klik’ Mingo, Theo ‘Godson’ Oloyade, Michèle ‘Paleta’ Rhyner, Hakim Saber, Shaun Smith, Duwane Taylor, Frank Wilson—to name them all—go and be amazed by their hybrid versatility, acrobatic agility, and balletic grace.

The final caption promises ‘to be continued’. I hope so.

Reviewer: Vera Liber