Review: Breakin’ Convention 2016 (@BConvention) |Breakin’ Perception

“The body is the brush, the circle is the can­vas, the paint is the blood, sweat and tears”. — Poe One

Breakin’ Con­ven­tion broke down the usu­ally stuffy and elit­ist doors of Sadler’s Wells Theatre for its 13th year

Breakin’ Con­ven­tion (Pho­to­graphy: Belinda Law­ley)

run­ning, bring­ing a vibrant, youth­ful and diverse audi­ence for its two day annu­al inter­na­tion­al hip hop dance theatre fest­iv­al.

Breakin’ Con­ven­tion is the anti­thes­is of most theatre com­pan­ies. Its per­formers are largely work­ing class youth, its artist­ic dir­ect­or (Jonzi D) turned down an OBE and then, wrote a satir­ic­al play on his decision. Par­ti­cip­a­tion and inclu­sion in the arts is at the heart of the com­pany, oper­at­ing a huge out­reach pro­gramme that oper­ates all year round giv­ing young Lon­don­ers cre­at­ive oppor­tun­it­ies to take artist­ic con­trol by using their lived exper­i­ences. How­ever the sheer tal­ent, pro­fes­sion­al­ism and artist­ic integ­rity is undeni­able. It’s a huge shame that due to soci­et­al biases break dan­cing or any oth­er ‘black’ art forms will nev­er be giv­en the same prestige, recog­ni­tion, fin­an­cial clout or artist­ic devel­op­ment as some­thing more ‘tra­di­tion­al’.

Jonzi D is in a unique pos­i­tion in the arts scene in Lon­don in that he is one of the only black people in Lon­don to have a gate­keep­er pos­i­tion in the arts industry. Breakin’ Con­ven­tion not only brought a taste of hip hop cul­ture but brought unapo­lo­get­ic black­ness into a space of white­ness and elit­ism.

Breakin’ Con­ven­tion’s takeover was marked aes­thet­ic­ally with Sadler’s Wells’ signs replaced by graf­fiti ver­sions, and numer­ous graf­fiti mur­als cov­er­ing the pristine white walls. The bar nicely accom­mod­ated to their new cli­entèle for the week­end with ‘soul food’ which included pat­ties, brown chick­en stew and rice and peas. Every corner and level of the multi-tiered ven­ue was filled with young people and fam­il­ies all par­ti­cip­at­ing in the free work­shops as a part of Breakin’ Con­ven­tion’s par­ti­cip­at­ory and out­reach pro­gramme. The mezzan­ine looked like a scene out of the Bronx circa. 1988. 100 young people no older than 14 crouch­ing in a circle vibin’ to funky 70’s sounds à la Curtis May­field in a break­dance cypher. Per­haps the most endear­ing moment of the night were kids who had cereb­ral palsy and motor neur­on dis­ease pop­pin, lockin’ and breakin’ all while being cheered and sup­por­ted by their fel­low bboys/girls.
Out in the yard there was a graf­fiti jam with live aer­o­sol art by CARE, CHUCK­one, DOME and Tom ‘Ink­fet­ish’ Black­ford. The crowd was encour­aged to pick up spray cans and make their mark on this col­lab­or­at­ive piece of art. The young­er crowd received a tag­ging work­shop facil­it­ated by Mr Dane.

The boom­ing Jonzi D, accom­pan­ied by Jac­qui Beck­ford who BSL signed hos­ted the even­ing which I thought was a nice and neces­sary addi­tion to the show, an action that many oth­er theatre com­pan­ies des­per­ately need to imple­ment.

Boy Blue Enter­tain­ment, argu­ably London’s most import­ant street dance insti­tu­tion kick-star­ted the show with their piece entitled Eman­cip­a­tion of Expres­sion­ism 2: The Voice. The crew rolled out in all black per­form­ing with mil­it­ary pre­ci­sion and syn­chron­icity to heavy break beats littered with machine gun samples. At occa­sions the music would fade to silence where you could hear col­lect­ive pant­ing and chant­ing from the dan­cers, first assumed to be gen­er­ic mil­it­ary cadences but in fact was them chant­ing ‘hip hop!’ The piece pro­gressed into high energy acro­bat­ics and ended on a dance off between two mem­bers with the rest of the crew circ­ling them act­ing as hype(wo)men. The vic­tor of the dance off was left on the stage alone, while the rest of the crew slowly backed away until the cur­tains drop. Per­haps this was meta­phor­ic­al for the jour­ney that young people go on to find their own eman­cip­a­tion, lib­er­a­tion and self-dis­cov­ery in soci­ety and this jour­ney can often leave you isol­ated.

Daugh­ters of the Dragon a duo formed of Mar­en Eller­mann and Sarifa Tonk­mor got their name from the Mar­vel Com­ic with whom they share an uncanny resemb­lance. The resemb­lance is not the only thing they have in com­mon with the com­ic, evid­ently there is a huge mar­tial arts influ­ence on their art. Their piece Kal­eido­scope saw the duo become one through using tai chi style moves and the flex­ib­il­ity of a gym­nast to a sampled tick tock clock beat. The duo fur­ther explored the concept of the kal­eido­scope by mak­ing excel­lent use of col­oured spot­lights, tak­ing the audi­ence through a jour­ney of col­our, light, form and mys­tery. The piece ended with the two scream­ing. This per­son­ally felt like it was a cri­tique on the soci­et­al expect­a­tions and pres­sure of women to be beau­ti­ful, appeas­ing and con­trolled.

Iron Skulls Co an exper­i­ment­al dance troupe hail­ing from Bar­celona took the audi­ence on a post-apo­ca­lyptic ride in Sin­estesia. Iron Skull util­ised dark­ness and shad­ows to depict the vul­ner­ab­il­ity of humans and our anim­al­ist­ic instincts. The per­formers were dressed in tattered cam­ou­flage cloth­ing and gas masks, whilst the music syn­co­pated tra­di­tion­al drum beats gave the piece a prim­it­ive and jun­gal­ist­ic feels. In Sin­estesia a world was cre­ated where man and anim­al became one, end­ing with an impromptu get­away into the dark of the audi­ence.

Future Ele­mentz was the most sen­ti­ment­al moment of the night, where Jonzi D show­cased his par­ti­cip­at­ory work with young Lon­don­ers aged 13 to 16. This cohort had the task of cre­at­ing a song and music video in one week- from lyr­ics to beats to cos­tumes. Jonzi D did a little shout out to see if any of the alumni were here, he was met with deaf­en­ing silence. There is still a huge ques­tion of access­ib­il­ity in the arts des­pite the vali­ant attempts of Breakin’ Con­ven­tion to make this fest­iv­al as access­ible and inclus­ive as pos­sible.

Soweto Skel­et­on Movers (Pho­to­graphy Belinda Law­ley)

Soweto Skelton Movers from the infam­ous South Afric­an town­ship explored the frivolity, inno­cence and escap­ist nature of chil­dren in their piece entitled ‘Chil­dren at Play­ground’. Dressed in a Con­golese sapeur style they pushed the lim­its of human bod­ies, con­tort­ing their bod­ies into incon­ceiv­able shapes. Although this crew lacked a female pres­ence, the crew redeemed them­selves through their decon­struc­tion of gender bin­ar­ies through dance. SSM weren’t afraid to enthu­si­ast­ic­ally indulge in typ­ic­ally fem­in­ine dance such as twerking and win­ing. Stel­lar acro­bat­ics, com­mend­able poise and strength allowed the dan­cers to use each oth­er as gym­nast­ic appar­at­us. A feat which involved them get­ting into intim­ate pos­i­tions with each oth­er. An inter­pret­a­tion which I feel is the rep­res­ent­a­tion of children’s nat­ur­al curi­os­ity to explore bod­ies .We later learned this dance style is known as ‘Pant­sula’ which evolved from black South Afric­an town­ship com­muters who developed a dance style known as ‘ispar­a­para’ inspired by their jump­ing on and off mov­ing trains.

Ant­oinette Gomis (Pho­to­graphy: Belinda Law­ley)

Ant­oinette Gomis a staple fig­ure on the European street dance cir­cuit per­formed her piece ‘Images’ which is heav­ily influ­enced and inspired by the life, art and philo­sophies of Nina Simone. The piece began with a pens­ive and a heart-break­ing lam­ent­a­tion on the lack of self-esteem and worth of black women due to Euro­centric beauty ideals. Gomis used flail­ing arms and floor tumbles to depict her hope­less­ness all while the res­on­at­ing lyr­ics of Nina Simone’s Images (‘She does not know, her beauty, she thinks her brown body has no glory’) haunted the aud­it­or­i­um. Images transitioned into an upbeat num­ber where Gomis stripped and put on a white flowy skirt and start­ing waack­ing, vogue­ing and jiv­ing quasi-remin­is­cent of Josephine Baker to a house remix of Nina Simone’s Sea Line Woman — ‘(empty his pock­ets And she wreck his days/ And she make him love her then she sure fly away)’ con­vey­ing the jour­ney to self-love and empower­ment. End­ing with a read­ing by Ant­oinette of the name of vari­ous black SHEr­oes from Maya Angelou to Queen Lati­fah to Misty Cop­land to Sojourn­er Truth, the vari­ety of black women com­mem­or­ated bus­ted notions of what it means to be a ‘worthy’ black woman. More power­fully, the only solo per­former of the night was a dark skinned black woman depict­ing black empower­ment in the most unapo­lo­get­ic­ally black fash­ion in a white space. Kudos to Breakin Con­ven­tion for giv­ing Ant­oinette this massive plat­form.

Enfants Prodi­gies and Ban­di­d­as tri­umphantly showed why some of the best dance crews are com­ing out of France. The former infused azonto moves with dab­bin, whin­ing, nae nae’s and twerking high­light­ing the amaz­ing cross cul­tur­al artist­ic exchange across the Afric­an dia­spora. Enfants Prodi­gies received the biggest cheer of the night and were clearly a fan favour­ite due to their pop­ular­ised dance moves. Ban­di­d­as a French all-women crew stepped out of the realm of hip hop dressed in video game heroines krump­ing to a dub­step sound­scape.

SWN­SNG (Pho­to­graphy Belinda Law­ley)

Traplord of the Flyz by SWN­SNG was the standout piece of the even­ing. The piece explores and reflects upon black male mas­culin­ity and the soci­et­al trap­pings that black men face such as racial­ized, insti­tu­tion­al­ised viol­ence, drugs and .Traplord begins with a group of black men decked out in black­face and black Adi­das track­suits, all bop­ping furi­ously to a grime beat that would­n’t seem out of place on a GRM Daily video. Poetry is intro­duced to the mix with res­on­at­ing lines such as, (‘Same nar­rat­ives with no addit­ives, street corners with fresh candlewicks/Are blacks just fast food for the pigs’). The poetry cres­cendos into chants of ‘black, black, black’ and ‘gor­illa, gor­illa, gor­illa’ to the beat of Migos’ Ver­sace. Trippy light­ing and non-lin­ear nar­rat­ive of the poetry made the per­form­ance feel like a psy­che­del­ic trip into the mind of a young black man trapped by the ills of soci­ety. Dan­cers held each oth­er at gun­point; zom­bie like dan­cers were dab­bin; ganja was rolled and smoked on stage, money was burnt after a fight ensued between the dan­cers to catch it. Poignantly, the piece ended with a sole dan­cer slowly dying to a grime jazz mix. Lon­don, a city divided by house­hold income, SWN­SNG brought home the inequal­it­ies and injustices and harsh real­it­ies of a sig­ni­fic­ant pro­por­tion of our popu­lace to an audi­ence largely ignor­ant on these issues.

Breakin’ Con­ven­tion is at the van­guard of hip hop cul­ture, a cul­tur­al mer­ging point between theatre and grass roots urb­an cul­ture. I really hope hip hop dance theatre becomes a thing like going to the bal­let, but dop­er.



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Maya Rattrey

Maya Rattrey

Edit­or / Author at No Bounds
Maya is an aspir­ing writer and revolu­tion­ary whose heart and soul can be found in the Glob­al South. Hav­ing become edit­or of I Am Hip-Hop Magazine at the age of 17, she is keen on using hip hop as a ped­ago­gic­al tool for the oppressed and help­ing fel­low young people into the media industry. Cur­rently a stu­dent, men­tal health work­er and arts facil­it­at­or- Maya brings both her aca­dem­ic and street know­ledge to pro­jects pro­duced by No Bounds.

About Maya Rattrey

Maya Rattrey
Maya is an aspiring writer and revolutionary whose heart and soul can be found in the Global South. Having become editor of I Am Hip-Hop Magazine at the age of 17, she is keen on using hip hop as a pedagogical tool for the oppressed and helping fellow young people into the media industry. Currently a student, mental health worker and arts facilitator- Maya brings both her academic and street knowledge to projects produced by No Bounds.