Ivan Michael Blackstock’s Traplord – 180 Studios, The Strand, London, March 30th 2022 – Aside from the name, the location, a couple of hints that it was going to be interesting, and knowing it was a Sadler’s Wells x 180 Studios production, I managed to avoid knowing anything about Traplord – no spoilers, no reviews, no explainers, just made it to the venue in time to get seated. If you want to do the same, here’s the short review, and you can skip the rest: one of the best things I’ve ever seen, just go, bring your mates, go, okay?
Right, now that’s out of the way, either you’re still reading, or you went and you’re still thinking about what you’ve experienced. If the latter, you’ll agree that words like ‘urban dance’ and ‘grime’ and ‘immersive experience’ are limiting and inadequate, and might put off people who would otherwise instantly get the universal human story, and the craft and sheer quality of the music, the animation, the lighting. Then, if we start getting into how this is proper subtle, thoughtful, serious art, that’s a whole another bunch of people making assumptions it’s not for them, or it’s a bunch of chin-stroking. None of it does Traplord justice.
What it does have, without giving too much away, is a spectacle that uses imagery many of us are familiar with, in our real lives: the cityscape of London, the gnarly bits that most of the people who actually keep the city running actually live in. The brutalist concrete of the venue is a vital part of the staging – part of the backdrop magically shifts between animation and a real wire fence that lets you feel you’re watching this in the South Bank Undercroft. It starts loud, ear-prodding bass, a flurry of complex, overlapping freestyle (here’s my only criticism: vocals too down in the mix to make out the words during this opening phase) and bodies hurling through near dark, lit by the odd spot and hand held light. It’s just the start: a loose, dreamlike story emerges, a collective dark night of the soul, a series of personal struggles to do with sense of self, outside pressure, the most fundamental human needs of love and acceptance in very particular circumstances, the pressure of being young and Black and living in precarious times.
Traplord is not simply a ‘dance work’ but something unique, one of those truly Maximalist events where the borders between supposedly polarised or disparate art forms become fractal and fuzzy. The dystopian, maybe even Discordian science fiction and gameplay motifs recall 2000AD and Blade Runner equally as the liminal spaces around newly built shopping centres and the unfinished bits of the Olympic Park (but of course, everything’s science fiction these days and what we’re talking about is daily life) the music expands into the most experimental ends of hip hop and dubstep, as well as passages where the soundtrack is the effort of physical exertion… the dance styles shift between contemporary and krump, between freestyle popping and locking and the hypnotic slow motion of Marquese Scott, and a few surprises – all in the service of the story. But the story itself is fragmented, non-linear, appropriate to a protagonist (represented by different key dancers in a series of set pieces) whose thoughts are running back and forward with stress. That knits together with the concept of the ‘trap’ – a place both physical and mental that traps you and brings you down, that will have you tying yourself up in knots to escape from. What even is escape? Here comes the possibility of redemption – it’s to do with honesty, unshackling from the stereotypes of masculinity, being prepared to give and take comfort.
If that sounds like a lot to pack in, it is, and it’s hard to see how another medium could deliver so much emotional weight without becoming unwieldy, which Traplord never does – time flew by. That’s why I’m so reluctant to go into more detail about individual dancers and passages – experience it without baggage. One that I would like to share is the moment when the music quietened to near inaudibility yet was still vital.
Traplord is the creation of Ivan Michael Blackstock, director and choreographer, a South London street dancer and gatherer of talents. He says, “My invitation to you is not to intellectualise but to feel. Immerse yourself in the stories we tell and enjoy the journey.”
“Ian Michael Blackstock’s eight-strong company, which includes himself, will perform, and are joined by spoken word artist Magero and rapper UNDER WATER KASH. TRAPLORD is presented by 180 Studios and Sadler’s Wells, and is part of Sadler’s Wells’s Well Seasoned, which platforms work by both UK-based and international Black dance maker”
Traplord is stupendous, thrilling, moving, utterly engaged with our times. I would happily immerse again. (Marina)
The Store/180 Studios is at 180 the Strand, London, WC2R 1EA.
More details from www.sadlerswells.com. The production runs until April 16th 2022