Fifteen years in the game and Jonzi D continues to innovate, cultivate and of course break the conventions of what we perceive as Hip Hop Theatre. This year’s Breakin’ Convention brought Breakdance from Jamaica, Popping from the USA and work from the 15 year strong Jazz Re:freshed. Jazz Re:freshed are also known for breaking the conventions of what we know jazz music to be. Once again this year I had the privilege of witnessing history taking place.
The first half provided three electric and eclectic UK game changers. Fuse 596 opened the first night of the festival with funky fresh house grooves that set the tone for an incredible night of artistic excellence. They brought a joyous interplay of technical footwork and individual freedom that only seasoned artists can carry. House Of Absolute provided stunning vocals, mesmerising Waacking choreography and a wonderful Krump solo performed by Saskia Horton. Horton used a microphone to echo an imagined vocal expression of her sharp and disjointed visceral movement. This was beautiful touch and a great illustration of how Hip Hop styles, as well as contemporary techniques, can launch new choreographic play within theatre. Bonetics contorted and flexed his lengthy limbs intricately with a rhythmically complex bone breaking solo choreography. The performance was attacked with fearlessness. An incredible display of an almost unreal physicality and movement vocabulary.
Femme Fatale based in America but comprised of three warrior women hailing from Korea, Mexico and France. Awesomeness stormed the stage from the opening pop. These women brought a clarity, strength and sensuality to popping that I have never witnessed before. There was even some Waaking too, showing versatility as well as unexpected similarities in the stylistic movement vocabularies. A seamless piece choreographically and performatively
Amala Dianor brought a real sense of poetry to the stage. The trio weaved, threaded and froze together in this contemporary approach to Breakdance and Floorwork. All three had a unique play between vigor and rawness, effortlessness and complexity.
Extreme Pushers from Jamaica showed us the kings of the dancehall. The b-boys gave us energy, spontaneity and most importantly insight into the Hip Hop scene in Jamaica, which rarely gains the same visibility as Reggae or Dancehall in terms of cultural context. It was incredibly refreshing, especially as it was their first performance abroad.
Guinness world record holder MC Supernatural and beat boxer Hobbit gave what could have possibly been the best end to a first half of a fest I’ve seen. Supernatural, renowned for the second longest continuous freestyle rap (9 hours and 15 minutes), rapped of the top off the dome to whatever item was given to him by the audience members dancing along in the pit. He followed with impressions of Hip Hop legends Slick Rick the Ruler, Busta Rhymes and Notorious BIG. Again perfect illustrations of how Hip Hop lives so seamlessly in the theatre.
This year, BC blessed avid fans with the same bill for the second half for all three, festive nights. It opened with a 15 piece Sonic Orchestra playing a magnificent score carefully crafted by saxophonist Jason Yarde. The Locksmiths emerged from the smoke in this awesome slow motion synchronised line up, each individually highlighting a different instrument with effortless rolls and locks. It was cinematic, articulate and in my opinion, completely stole the show.
The Master of Ceremonies this time around, announced his own performance, ‘This will start with an African proverb and end with some Shakespeare’. The reference to theatre here cleverly plays with the pinnacles of traditional Western theatre and places them alongside pinnacles of Hip Hop to display the uncanny similarities between them. Jonzi then began to conduct the orchestra, placing his hands on his hat and shoulders to create a beat to rhyme on, ‘And you wonder why Hip Hop is attracting the youth’. The piece developed into a trio joined by the ever incredible signer Jacqui Beckford and Bonetics, who showed his versatility by embodying Jonzi’s clever word play and Sonic Orchestra’s infectious beats. It had a sense of family and unity, which permeated the second half.
The Ruggeds hailing from the Netherlands provided an awesome display of humor, synchronicity and masterful physicality. Each member moved with a confidence and clarity only achieved through meticulous dedication to the craft and culture. In parts, the choreography, appeared as though animation on the stage, like we were rapidly turning the pages of a flipbook. Entertaining and squeaky clean, this crew brought such pleasure to the main stage.
French show stopper Mufasa, like Bonetics, graced the stage again a sultry duet with singer and cellist Ayanna Witter-Johnson. Mufasa stretched and oozed her limbs to every pluck of a string and impulsively caught and hung on every lyric gorgeously sung by Witter-Johnson. The perfect pair and noteworthy ingredient to the second half.
Finally, the first family of UK Hip Hop, Boy Blue entertainment, ended the incredible display of artistry with a 30 strong household of Hip Hop bounty killers. Not one member skipped a beat or floundered. The legacy of Boy Blue was captured in its purest form. We were invited to party with the founding men and women that paved the way for UK Hip Hop as we know it today. The choreography was tribal, expressive and timeless touching on Afro, Dancehall and Waacking, as well as recognisable codified Boy Blue grooves and combinations. The energy was electric, the perfect ending to a seamless show.
Once again Breakin Convention has given us an event which smashes any preconceived agendas of what Hip Hop culture offers the world. It’s a privilege to witness a time in the culture where the unavailability of extraordinary brilliance is becoming something of the past. Breakin’ Convention will continue to bridge the gap between the élite and the street in order to provide Hip Hop its right to exist in theatre and any other context it chooses to, without question of its greatness or relevance.
Photography credit: Belinda Lawley
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