Breakin’ Convention is the UK’s festival of Hip Hop dance theatre, presenting dance by companies and crews from across the globe. I Am Hip Hop catch up with Ukweli Roach to find out more about the power of Hip Hop theatre and his involvement in Breakin’ Convention!
Q. Tell us about Birdgang Dance Company. How did it all start?
Birdgang Dance Company started in 2005 between myself Ivan Blackstock and Simeon Qsyea. We were all dancing in places like Pineapple Dance Studios at the time and there became members of the international company Dance2XS. They were great but concentrated on training and we decided we wanted more so left Danc2XS and started dancing together. Our first show was in 2006 and since then things have really taken off.
Q. I’ve noticed the term ‘Aahehop’ being used when I looked you up. Can you explain what this means?
We felt that the term Hip Hop was so over and wrongly used that we needed something specific for what WE did. With ‘Streetdance’ also being hard to define as we needed our company to be more about than just that form of dance and we didn’t want to wrongly use the term Hip Hop. It’s a combination of the dance techniques from Hip Hop but also includes jazz, contemporary and physical theatre. The word started as a slurring term. Said with a ‘cough’…Hop’ = Aahehop.
Q. So how does this form of dance engage audiences?
Hip Hop is about showmanship and Streetdance, when put on stage, is very magnetic so its aesthetically pleasing. Our show’s content is a reflection of our mindset as we tend to veer towards quite dark, metaphorically and artistically speaking, material. We also deal with adult subject matter so hope audiences will be able to relate to what we’re trying to say.
Hip Hop, has always had funding difficulties, because it’s seen as something for the younger generation especially in dance. So funders immediately become uninterested. We wanted to be a company that marketed to issues and topics that are not just about the beauty of movement but about addressing those issues relating to everyone. Making it as theatrically valid as say Ballet was also important because artistically and technically there are much better things happening within the underground scene. Some pieces and performances I’ve seen are more touching than any mainstream contemporary dance. So we’re bringing this to the forefront.
Q. What show will you be performing at Breakin’ Convention?
A piece called Vice. We’ve never done the same show twice and usually bring a different show but they’ve asked us to do this one again.
Q. Tell us about your inspiration behind the piece.
Vice is a big exaggeration of issues and struggles I was personally going through at the time. Its about this idea of who I wanted to be against who I was. You’ll notice, if you’ve watched the video, that cigarettes are featured in the piece, because I used to smoke. I wanted to explore that idea of addiction and how we’ve all got a vice in some form or another. Some people manage to come out of their addiction whereas others find it very difficult and are there forever.
Q. How do you find telling stories using movement, as opposed to dialogue and action. And do you think the audience will understand what you’re trying to say?
I was frightened that they wouldn’t understand it at first but then after a while I didn’t care. I learnt to trust that the audience would understand that this is something meaningful and so I made it as clear as possible. Music also helps because of the lyrics, so I choose my music very carefully. That’s very important. But if they didn’t understand then I thought at least they’ll enjoy the aesthetic of the dance moves. In acting, text is a much easier communication vehicle so it’s very clear but the thought process, when I’m performing a dance piece, even though I’m acting differently, is still very much the same.
Q. What does Breakin Convention mean to you?
Breakin’ Convention is the biggest and best platform for Hip Hop dance theatre in the UK for sure and they’ve worked very hard to get there. And it showcases work that needs to be seen. It means a lot for us as a dance company not only because the people behind it have worked hard to make it what it is today but also because our first show was with them. Artists are becoming increasingly more talented because of prestigious festivals like Breakin Convention to perform in. They’ve pulled the resources together, so work that deserves to be seen gets showcased. It’s a very important platform.
Q. So would you also say that the standard of dance has increased?
Absolutely. Hip hop dance and theatre have only recently married. The standard of talent has also meant that its becoming a dualistic form now, but its much more than that too. Its slowly getting to be seen as artistically valid.
Q. Lets talk more about this combination of skills. You’re also an actor so what advice would you give to someone wanting to combine their performing arts’ skills?
For me acting is something I always wanted to do and its what I do first. When I first started out I had no idea of how to become an actor, I didn’t have anyone in the family or way in to the industry so I decided to go to drama school as it was important for me to learn how to reach that elusive place. Its different now with tuition fee increases but a government grant meant I could study Acting at RADA. I wouldn’t say its 100% necessary to go to drama school (if you want to act) as we have access to so many ways of learning now. So my advice would be to try and see as much of what you want to do as possible. To make a living you’ve got to try lots of things. Most of your income for example (well for me in the beginning anyway) could come from something like teaching. But watch anything and everything that inspires you – expose yourself to that world. Learn from Youtube, live streams of shows, theatre. For my acting, for example, I needed to learn the basics about a characters objective, the obstacle and plot setting so watched movies and still do now.
Q. So let’s do your top ten films list.
This is gonna be difficult. Ok.
Anchorman (I’m not ashamed to admit it)
Drive (I loved that the character didn’t need to say much)
Old Boy (Classic)
A Bittersweet Life (I love Korean films)
Scott Pilgrim Versus The World (I like Edgar Wright’s work)
Gran Tarino (A Clint Eastwood film made about 5 years ago)
I have so many more to add to the list.
Q. Ok lets do your top 20 then.
Kill Bill 1 & 2 (I’ve counted this as one)
The Wolf of Wall Street (Mixed reviews but I liked it. The characters have a comeuppance)
The Pursuit of Happiness
City of God
Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
Breakin’ Convention will be touring at Sadlers Wells from 3rd ‑5th May and then nationally until June 7th
For tickets for Breakin’ Convention Click here
And find out more about Ukweli here
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