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  • Chris O'Rourke

Dublin Dance Festival 2024: BLKDOG

BLKDOG by Botis Sava. Image, Camilla Greenwell


When it comes to introducing young audiences to dance, Hip-Hop is an obvious avenue. Which explains why Dublin Dance Festival has enjoyed a long relationship with the genre, featuring several battles and showcases over the years. Arising out of the US in the late 70s, its since become the dance darling of Tik-Tok, with several of its components becoming distinct styles in themselves. The genre evolving whilst remaining connected to its origins on the streets. Which are often gritty, violent and dangerous. Very much in evidence in director & choreographer Botis Seva’s sensational, Olivier Award winning BLKDOG.

More Top Boy than L.A., Torben Sylvester’s brilliant industrial score, along with Ryan Dawson-Laight’s grim, grey tracksuits and hoodies are as far from the American Dream as you can get. California Dreamin’ maybe. But dream on. Tom Visser’s street-lit hell a cold, traumatised, Brutalist backdrop. Where hope abandons all who enter here, having little chance of escape. Visser’s black-and-white scenes using soft-spots to scratch images from the midnight dark. In which unseen and unmentionable things crowd near a huddled, lone figure isolated in a circular cell of white. Like a creature from a Playstation game, or a child crouched under a street light. The darkness pressing in, hiding brutalities the eye might not be able to handle. The imagination filling in the terrible, torturous glimpses as bodies struggle to rise, gunshots ring out, and people scamper and scurry about like mice. The frightened and the feared. The child and the monster. The child made monster.

BLKDOG by Botis Sava. Image, Camilla Greenwell

Throughout, Seva’s choreographic lexicon establishes a powerful fusion of signature Hip-Hop moves (the foot grab, pointing, the bring it on swagger) with clear, recognisable gestures (the pointed gun, the baseball bat swung, giving CPR). The dancers achieving low status by seeing much of their movement compressed to the floor; scurrying across the stage in yoga squat like silent Gollums. Then freezing like animals caught in a searchlight. The synchronisation of body, sound and light unparalleled. Fast, fleeting, or frozen in time, dancers shift in and out intermittent tableaux. Recurrent ideas of children, therapy, guilt and depression, of fatal violence being played and replayed. Movements oscillating between a Matrix attention to slow motion detail offset by jagged, restless energies. Soloist and group always sharing the space. The lone dancer desperate to belong, yet desperate to escape,

BLKDOG’s hybrid style might leave some Hip-Hop purists put out, whilst its 'feet in the street' narrative might put off others who want the genre to tell different stories. But BLKDOG remains true to its cultural and creative roots, and to the wild, dangerous experiences that inform it. To how street dance is an effort to elevate. To escape to a better place. Perhaps even a better life. If BLKDOG falls down, it’s in giving too much of a good thing. Overplaying its hand, it overstays its welcome. What was initially riveting suffering from rinse and repeat as the end approaches. Whose final image might say more about you than the work. A chance at a new beginning or for history to repeat itself? Whatever you see, walking out into the light you know you’ve been witness to something. Something primary, visceral and transformative. Don’t be afraid. Don't worry about story. Just look at the fleeting, fierce images and all will become clear. Let them imprint themselves on your imagination. The haunting light and the soul swallowing dark. The body's expressiveness. The searing sountrack to crimes we'd rather not see. The faintest flicker of hope. It’s all there. BLKDOG will blow you away. If you let it.

BLKDOG by Botis Sava, presented by Dublin Dance Festival and the Abbey Theatre, runs at The Abbey Theatre until May 18.

For more information visit The Abbey Theatre or Dublin Dance Festival 2024


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