He’s won an Olivier, choreographed for the Olympics and this year was awarded an MBE. Now Boy Blue Entertainment co-founder Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy is bringing hip hop to the International Festival

One of the major things for me, especially from a movement point of view, is texture,” says Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy, co-founder of hip hop company Boy Blue Entertainment and choreographer of Blak Whyte Gray, the ensemble piece being performed as part of this year’s Edinburgh International Festival. The work is a triple bill, each section taking its name from one of the title colours, bringing together eight dancers and a textured palette of hip hop movement. First performed at the Barbican in January, it has already garnered glowing reviews.

“People generally see hip hop as just being this street dance thing phenomenon,” says Sandy. “For me, hip hop just has that expressive feeling – I’m not taking away from any other style but for me, I’m able to go from one style to another and with that I can go from one concept to another.”

Sandy has been practising the form for almost 20 years. Boy Blue Entertainment, the company he co-founded with composer Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante dates back to 2002, while the friendship between the pair goes back to their schooldays. Their collaboration, Sandy says, takes various shapes. Sometimes it all starts with a movement, sometimes a piece of music. Sometimes, as in the case of Blak Whyte Gray, with a concept.

The title’s unique spellings, Sandy explains, came from exploring what each colour could represent to different cultures and different individuals. Though he is reluctant to describe the piece as overtly political, he says it has its roots in examining the small acts that are part of everyday life. “It’s about what is happening now, what is actually going on right now in the world: what is going on down your road, what is going on in your country, your city, and what politics we have to go through on a day-to-day basis. Certain things like trying to make money and the hustle and the graft. There’s so much politics in what you have to do and how you’ve got to do it.”

It’s a busy time for Sandy, who started the year receiving an MBE for services to dance and the community. In addition to Blak Whyte Gray, Boy Blue are engaged in a collaboration with Castlebrae Community High School called Project: R.E.B.E.L., also part of EIF. Castlebrae students have been learning how to host a dance show on an international festival scale, while Boy Blue have been engaging them in hip hop workshops. The troupe’s Alpha Blue division, aged 18-25, will be performing the piece. But if Sandy’s schedule is an indicator of the growing appreciation there is for hip hop in the UK, it’s also an indicator of its versatility, something that public perception may have yet to catch up to.

It’s clear talking to Sandy that his belief in hip hop’s power to communicate reaches beyond dance steps. With regard to his personal ambitions he is keen to travel to more countries to help develop their hip hop communities. But when it comes to the UK scene, the next steps are clear. “One of my goals would be for us to have our own hip hop dance building. Definitely we need to have our own building where we have our workshops, training, cyphers, jams, everything.” He points out most other dance forms already have dedicated studios.

But there is one question still puzzling me. Why ‘H20’? “Have you ever seen Breakdance the movie?” Sandy asks. “At some point it says every street dancer has a tag name.” At the time, his specialism was waving, a branch of hip hop dance related to popping where intricate wave patterns travel through the body. “I must have been like ‘I’m going to call myself H2O, I’m not going to call myself Water, to call myself Water would just be crap’. Then it started changing from the style of movement I do to just the kind of person I am.”

WORDS Lucy Ribchester

PHOTO Carl Fox

WHERE & WHEN

Blak Whyte Gray, 16-29 August,  The Lyceum, times vary, from £10 Tel: 0131 473 2000

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