mon 15/07/2024

Some Like It Hip Hop, ZooNation, Peacock Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Some Like It Hip Hop, ZooNation, Peacock Theatre

Some Like It Hip Hop, ZooNation, Peacock Theatre

Take all the warts away from streetdance and you're left with feel-good, family-friendly clichés

A most inventive clowning dancer: Tommy Franzén flips with eye-blurring speedPhotos by Simon Prince/Sadler's Wells Theatre

The title is a warning, as is the cheesy grinning poster - this is going to be Fun with a capital F, and Feel-good too, and Family Friendly. And it is going to clean up hip hop’s badass image. I was already prejudiced against it before I sat down.

Most of the best hip hop I’ve seen has been feel-bad, because anger and frustration is where all that ferocious physical articulacy, that satirical and defiant jousting with balance and tempo, comes from, and I haven’t fully bought into Kate Prince’s ZooNation and her team of dancers who always tend to look as if they're on children's telly. This new show is a decent, amiable, God-fearing evening of mainstream streetdance that comes from the TV-sterilised stable of Britain’s Got Talent, StreetDance 3D, the movie, and the current trend to use hip hop to cure society’s warts by removing all the warts from hip hop itself.

Zoonation menEmpowerment is the driver in the plot, which Prince describes as a comedy about love, mistaken identity and sexual revolution. She writes, directs, choreographs and does the song lyrics. As with her last show, Into the Hoods, the title pops itself cheekily onto a much bigger vehicle and asks for a knowing laff.

Yet Prince has at the heart of this show a promising germ for an original plot, if only she’d not been afraid of it. We are set down in a city in which men have stolen the sun, banned books and turned women into silent servants. It is a fine Gothic theme, or would be if treated with the spookiness it deserves - much better to design it in a futuristic world, or perhaps a Taliban world, rather than an all-purpose urban yard costumed in Fifties-ish US/UK togs. When two of the more spirited women decide to disguise themselves as males in frivolous moustaches and wonky wigs (pictured above, Teneisha Bonner, centre back, and Lizzie Squire, front right), we’re to believe that these appalling men would not murder them in a flash when they discover their gender. Call me warped, but again, how much stronger a theatrical story that would be, and maybe more hip hop, too.

However, this is devised for family entertainment, so there is a rabbit warren of subplots whereby some are more fooled than others by the sex switch, a rather gay chap with a bow tie and a banned stash of books is not outed in this macho hellhole, and the abandoned daughter of the mean city governor who stole the sun turns up unexpectedly to melt his heart. Everyone is thus empowered: women, gays, book readers, abandoned kids, bad fathers, the high-fiving audience, all sorted. And moreover, sorted by dance, libraries and being nice to everyone. Sort of critic-proof, really.

Zoonation FranzenI take nothing away from the best of the dancing, which from some performers is brilliant. Tommy Franzén has featured in much better shows before, the streetdance funfest Blaze, the Royal Ballet's Goldberg (with Tamara Rojo), and here he takes centre stage. Strongly resembling a young Ronnie Corbett with his glasses and grin (Franzén pictured right), he proves a vividly inventive clowning dancer, as unexpected as mercury in some of his moves, crumpling to the floor on collapsed limbs and bouncing back in a trice onto one hand, or flipping with eye-blurring speed.

But his master in the air is Robert Anker, who soars in incredible multiple twists as if made of rubber and helium. The Governor Duwane Taylor does a fine switch from monster-mash krumping to some unexpected b-boying, and the vigour of the other guys reminds you that hip hop is Darwinian in its competitiveness.

In this male domain the women suffer, though fluffy little Natasha Gooden makes a cute, aggressive hoyden when she dances. But in the leading parts neither the elegant Teneisha Bonner nor Lizzie Gough is up to speed on the floor with the men in the b-boying ensembles.

The surprise consolation is one of the two vocalists, the smoky-voiced house singer Elliotte Williams-N’Dure, who is really worth listening to and not in this kind of cheesy thing either. As you'd hope, the show's finale puts the sunshine calculator away, fielding the traditional jam session where each dancer gives us their own stuff in their own way, and almost every one of them at last shines without clichés.

Listen to Elliotte Williams-N'Dure in a Kid Massive mix, "Pride (A Deeper Love)"

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