LONDON – Street-dance types in Japan can often be seen working on their moves in parks or in front of big plate-glass windows, but in Britain the dance movement is being taken to an entirely new level.
There, the popular long-running TV show “Britain’s Got Talent” now boasts more urban-inspired dance troupes than the strange range of tubby singers that used to be its stock-in-trade, while in August the UDO World Street Dance Championships were held in Glasgow — and local authorities are even turning to dance to tackle anti-social behavior and gang violence.
Last month, too — although Japan doesn’t rate close to Britain in terms of people behaving badly in public (nationalist bigots excepted) — “The Five and the Prophecy of Prana,” a street-dance show set in present-day Tokyo, was staged again at the prestigious Barbican Theatre in London where it premiered last year.
The capital’s iconic West End has seen its share of urban, pun-heavy productions such as “Some Like It Hip Hop” and “Into the Hoods: An Urban Fairy Tale,” but “The Five” is the first to combine contemporary urban music and dance with martial arts.
Over close on two hours, this “dazzling, dynamic and explosive tribute to manga” (as it’s billed) follows the rehabilitation of five young offenders. Instead of serving time, local legend Wang Tang offers to make them his disciples in the fictional martial art Pih Poh Fu in the hope they will fulfil an ancient prophecy and become the five guardians of Prana.
To compensate for the limited storytelling scope of street dance and martial arts, Boy Blue Entertainment — the production company behind “The Five,” whose resume includes choreography for parts of the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony — enlisted famed manga artist Akio Tanaka to help convey the narrative.
As well as transforming the entire stage into a living, breathing comic-book page, Tanaka — who is best known for his ultra-violent “Shamo” series — uses projected artwork, ranging from tranquil Japanese landscapes to pounding inner-city nightclubs, on which to display dialogue, provide additional context and, at times, to mix in animated scenes.
One such scene sees two actors engaged in a lightning-fast exchange of fists seamlessly morph into animated characters who take the fight to the skies, teleporting across the stage in true “Dragon Ball Z” style.
Meanwhile, additional narrative is provided by prerecorded dialogue embedded in the production’s hip-hop soundtrack — dialogue which the actors intentionally mime out of sync in a hilarious nod to the badly dubbed kung-fu flicks of yesteryear.
Despite all these devices, the overly complicated first act can be confusing without thumbing through the complementary plot booklet. Fortunately, then, “The Five” knuckles down for act two, gaining focus while introducing an assortment of new villains that wouldn’t be amiss in a Tarantino movie or the latest Suda 51 video game.
Without giving too much away, among the highlights are a war veteran who has lost his mind and has a psychotic fighting style to prove it; a kabuki-masked kingpin who seems to teleport around the set at impossible speeds; and a super-flexible femme fatale whose movements are akin to a spider.
For all its wizardry, though, it was Theo “Godson” Oloyade — a real-life finalist in Britain’s popular TV contest “Got To Dance” — who stole the show as he sprinkled his martial arts with the exaggerated, highly expressive krumping style of street dance. While he narrowly missed out on TV’s top prize, he clearly won over a sizable share of the audience, who whooped and cheered at his every jab and chest pop.
“The Five and the Prophecy of Prana” is on tour around Britain. For more details, visit schedulethefivetour.co.uk. Follow Tom Smith @JPUrecords.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.