London and Hip Hop have a long and constantly evolving relationship that’s enriched both the city and the culture. Events, artists and styles come, go, are reborn, fused and more, but for the last 16 years of that historical process Breakin’ Convention has been a mainstay, supporting and being subject to that growth. since 2004, the base of Hip Hop Dance Theatre pioneered by the legendary Jonzi D and housed at Sadler’s Wells has provided a home for innovative creatives and the young performers they inspire in return for the fruits of their imaginative endeavours. The show on Saturday May 4th was no exception, with some of the most talented artists in the city, country and worldwide brought together to showcase their skills.
Before the main stage opened, there was a beautiful family atmosphere with Hip Hop culture being embraced, explored and expressed by heads of all ages – freestyle dance cyphers held down by the resident DJs the En4cerzand a ‘Training Zone’ for newcomers run by Rowdyand Mid-Air; Mr Dane teaching people to tag and customise pieces; graffiti workshops in the yard by a global collection of pros Case, Gnasher, Niser, Teaserand Letty Lyons; performances by emcee Broken Penand beatbox from Grace Savage.
With Hip Hop living and breathing throughout the building, the main event kicked off with huge excitement running through the rammed-out theatre. Jonzi and his co-host Jacqui Beckford, who signed the whole show, raised that excitement to the fullest, as the show opened with 3 amazing group pieces. ‘Air’ by Archetype explored environmental issues, duality and balance, Funky Fresh Collective gave a visual dedication to the music of TLC in ‘CrazySexyCool’, while the all-female popping crew A.I.M Collective gave a commanding performance seemingly inspired by Jordan Peele’s ‘US’ – red jumpsuits, puppet-like movements and a haunting solo introduction to ‘Love and Happiness’ by Al Green.
This was followed by one of the stand out moments. San Diego’s Logistx– who at 15 is younger than Breakin’ Convention itself – was described by Jonzi as the future of breaking. Her solo ‘Pain is Reality’ explored the need to overcome life’s agony to attain freedom, and she moved through impressive sequences of power moves in her own style, all with amazing use of light to a blended soundtrack of Hip Hop, Chinese classical and Alan Watts quotes. She was followed by ‘Kigiriki Mungu’ by Cocojam– a moving group tribute to Jack Saunders, a friend of the crew who recently passed on. The personal piece represented the inspiration and appreciation for dancers who have come, given and left us, throughout the generations, and the emotion and gratitude was visible in every movement.
My favourite part of the night came from Godson with ‘RAW’ – which is exactly what it was. The powerful political piece was like a battle raged against an invisible opponent, with Godson leading a crew of 20 dancers into war, krumping with a level of energy I’ve rarely seen aimed at, hit or sustained on any stage. The space, smoke and lighting was used masterfully, beginning in the back corner with Godson alone, evoking a ‘back against the wall’ claustrophobia that was eventually overcome by calling on his team, rising up and boiling over the whole stage and beyond it. The group moved and spread like a collective entity violently reacting to its circumstances through the expression of each of its parts. As the unit spread, the lighting rig descended, giving a sense of reactive containment, as if the environment itself was seeking to crack down on the dancers to regain control. It was an astonishing piece of dance and theatre, fitting for the times we’re living through. The first half of the show was closed by France’s Geometrie Variable, who put on a stunning display ‘Labora’, intertwining their arms and bodies into extraordinary shapes and sequences, striking a perfect balance between fluidity and mechanistic movement.
In the interval, I managed to get over to the Lilian Baylis studio where some more language driven performances were given, with 2 really making an impression. Ukweli Roach’s‘Vicycle’ highlighted the dopamine fuelled addiction to social media many people are dealing with today, preceded by a deeply distressing but necessary critique of abuse within Black families ‘Broken Silence’ by veteran playwright and poet Realitie, with incredible performances from Debora Adefioyeand Olivia Masengi capturing the conflicted personas produced by the inner turmoil of a child abused by her stepfather and mother.
The second half of the main stage show reopened with another heartfelt dedication to a transcended soul – Paul Trouble Anderson– by the Perry Louis Jazz Cotech Crew, paying homage to the dancefloor Jazz and Boogie scene of 1970s and 80s London that the DJ, producer and dancer helped to shape. WeWolf, comprised of LA based Rubberlegz and Germany based James Gregg, saw the duo literally combine to present ‘Decay’, a unique and engrossing set of movements and shapes that saw the dancers utilizing some incomprehensible dexterity to often appear as a bizarre amalgamation of sentient flesh. This was followed the profoundly personal ‘Finding Me’ by Angyil McNeal, which started with a harrowing account of her childhood in Kansas City as the daughter of a drug user father and drug dealer mother. McNeal has used dance to overcome her situation, which has caused her to create different sides of herself, some of which were explored through her popping, outfit changes and lighting.
The finale of the show was another highlight; one of the biggest b-boy crews in the world, Battle of the Year World Champions Jinjo Crew of South Korea. Demonstrating the best attributes of the long legacy of Korean breakers, the crew combine level raising takes on established moves with innovation, acrobatic deftness and their own culture, moving from traditional Korean music and clothing to all out classic breaking style. The whole routine was insane, especially when they managed to tie all their hoodies together in one movement! It was a madness!
Breakin’ Convention had successfully celebrated it’s sweet 16 with an astonishing event. Everyone involved demonstrated the care, precision and love that has gone into the art of each performer and established Breakin’ Convention as a powerhouse of Hip Hop, dance, theatre and culture in London and worldwide, and that I’m sure will lead to at least another 16 years of success.
Photos by Belinda Lawley