BLKDOG: Youth trauma through hip-hop dance
Five hooded and hunched figures stand in the dark as fragmented light flickers across their bodies during the dance performance of BLKDOG at Luxembourg's Grand Théâtre.
Amidst the electronic music is the voice of a therapist asking the audience to “start from the beginning” then the voice of a child asking for a bedtime story.
The dancers reel and jerk to the beat, they scuttle like little beetles on their haunches, drift through the darkness like moths towards light, bashing and crashing. Sometimes the movements are synchronised not only between the dancers but with each jolting movement repeated over and over to the music score.
They slap their faces or fall to the floor, they shapeshift from happy to sad, from love to violence. Fingers twist from hearts to guns. Sometimes one dancer performs alone while the others are immobile.
The music blends electronic and hip-hop with sounds and words. The phrases “wake up” and “let’s start from the beginning” are constantly repeated. The dancers sway between fitful sleep and slapping their heads and raising their hands in exasperation.
Dancers pretend to die on the stage and perform cardiac resuscitation, then grieve at the loss of life. Suicide, death by violence, Covid-19, or even jumping from the Grenfell Tower blaze.
Choreographer Botis Seva and his hip-hop dance collective Far From The Norm give a visceral and brutal view of how young people cope in a hostile world. It is both self-discovery and self-destruction, childhood traumas that play out into adult dramas and a view into what daily depression and anxiety feels like.
BLKDOG was originally conceived to explore the theme of an ageing artist trying to retain his youth, Seva said, but the theme changed during the pandemic to become “less about an ageing artist and more about how we, as humans, supress feelings that have happened in our childhood.”
Seva got into dance through rapping at his local east London youth club, in part due to restrictions and conflicts with secondary school teachers. "The show is for people who just want to give up on life, for the people who find it hard to speak about the past," he said. "There are broken humans around us who are trying their best to cope. We need to show each other more love and humility.”
This is the fourth performance in the past few weeks about the impact of childhood trauma on adults, following Lady in the Dark (Grand Théâtre), Lovefool (Théâtre National du Luxembourg), and Blackbird (Théâtre de Centaure). All three were very different plays, but Seva has expertly brought these hardships into a compelling modern dance format.
The heavy beats and the tempo of the music, written in collaboration with Torben Lars Sylvest, are an integral part of the dance moves as is the expert strafe lighting created by Tom Vissar.
It feels relentless at times and the jagged movements remind me of a paused video. It may not be on purpose, but there is a hint at the isolation that social media and watching violent or sexually explicit content bring.
BLKDOG will be performed at the Grand Théâtre on 30 November and 1 December at 20.00. You can find more information and purchase tickets online here.