Review: Breakin’ Convention (@BConvention) 2017

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This year’s Break­in Con­ven­tion, the 14th since its incep­tion, has once again proven that Sadler’s wells, des­pite its clas­sic­al asso­ci­ations, can be a space inhab­ited by people from all walks of life, regard­less of any soci­etal group­ing. Each year the con­ven­tion, with its elec­tri­fy­ing energy and innov­a­tion seeks to make and re-make his/her-story, by rede­fin­ing nar­rat­ives as it indelibly inks a sense of pride, agency and above all unity upon all that it touches.

I’ve been to Break­in Con­ven­tion many times, as both an audi­ence mem­ber and a per­former. I’ve exper­i­enced what it is to be with­in the beat­ing heart of the crowd and also be the adren­aline fuelled car­ri­er of the art on stage. This year I had the oppor­tun­ity to exper­i­ence it from the per­spect­ive of a review­er. Watch­ing it from this vant­age point proved very inter­est­ing as well as enlight­en­ing, allow­ing me the dis­tance to con­sider the event from many angles.

In one day alone (con­sid­er­ing it’s a three-day fest­ival) Break­in’ Con­ven­tion can, in the name of Hip Hop and cul­ture con­tain the world in its palm, bring­ing togeth­er artists from South Korea, Canada, Aus­tria, Rus­sia and France as well as the UK. Which begs the ques­tion, if these swathes of Hip Hop artists can unite, then why can’t the world? Why can’t we, as seen in the Break­in Con­ven­tion, unite, find­ing the joy and interest in our dif­fer­ences, and curi­os­ity rather than con­flict?

As ever the line up for this year fea­tured bold and chal­len­ging cho­reo­graphy, with a unique mix of dance and theatre, the artists tackled sub­jects such as police bru­tal­ity, black love and even began dis­sem­in­at­ing ideo­lo­gies sur­round­ing gender norms. All of this whil­st still man­aging to excel in phys­ic­al bril­liance, throw­ing in some dope head spins and incor­por­at­ing feats of tech­nic­al chal­lenge, which have to be seen to be believed.

Open­ing the show was mas­ter-mind and cre­at­or Jonzi D with his usu­al free­style, remind­ing us that not only is he a badass dan­cer but also a mas­ter­ful lyr­i­cist. He was joined by Jac­qui Beck­ford; a beau­ti­ful Brit­ish sign­er, illus­trat­ing that this is a fest­ival designed for every­one.

The first to take to the stage was London’s own Rebirth Net­work. They presen­ted a clean and dynam­ic cho­reo­graphy, using art as a polit­ic­al medi­um to dis­cuss police bru­tal­ity. The piece included a re-enact­ment of riot­ing to which the group split in half, dis­play­ing pas­sion, power and the strength of the dan­cers clev­erly dir­ec­ted stage left and right. Although this piece was beau­ti­fully per­formed, well-rehearsed and well thought out, I per­son­ally found myself wish­ing that the focus of the piece was closer to home. Police bru­tal­ity is an issue here and now in the UK, not just over­sees. It would have provided neces­sary and essen­tial a wake up call to our audi­ence that it is in fact very pre­val­ent in the UK.

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The high­light of the fest­ival this year were the female per­formers, a par­tic­u­larly impress­ive example was provided with Emma Houston’s intel­li­gent cho­reo­graphy- ‘The Purple Jig­saw’. Here we found a clear illus­tra­tion of gender ste­reo­types with­in the Hip Hop dance sec­tor as well as in the vogue com­munity; a clev­er depic­tion which man­aged to bring to Sadlers Wells a con­ver­sa­tion that isn’t usu­ally voiced here. It was the per­fect plat­form to start the con­ver­sa­tion. The male per­formers took the stage with flaw­less lines and per­fect grace, and were bril­liantly jux­ta­posed by the strength and vir­il­ity of the females throw­ing down their sick­est bgirl tricks and freezes. Men can embody beau­ty and women can embody a power­ful raw­ness without detract­ing from either, the abso­lute defin­i­tion of break­ing con­ven­tions.

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Theo ‘God­son’ Oloyade’s piece had a bril­liant cast of both men and women and con­tained a short uni­son sec­tion, show­cas­ing the tal­ent pre­val­ent in the females of UK krump, provid­ing a wel­com­ing dis­play of fem­in­in­ity and beau­ty teamed with raw buck­ness. It was com­pletely joy­ous see­ing arm swings and jabs that spoke volumes with a power and strength, filling the space all the way to the top of the second circle.

Austria’s Hungry Sharks gave a start­ling and reveal­ing depic­tion of how our world now revolves around social media, tak­ing sim­ple ges­tures such as a thumbs up to show how our world con­sists of a con­vey­er belt of likes and dopam­ine hits. The use of light­ing in this piece was par­tic­u­larly poignant in a duet between the Shark’s only female mem­ber and a another com­pany mem­bers shad­ow, exem­pli­fy­ing our lack of genu­ine human inter­ac­tion and its replace­ment with mobile phones.

 

Toronto’s Tentacle Tribe stole the show with their infec­tious, smooth and artic­u­late cho­reo­graphy. The three women filled the stage with their weav­ing and inter­la­cing form­a­tions, dynam­ic­ally flow­ing through the space with fluid­ity and con­trol, provid­ing a seam­less piece of cho­reo­graphy. There was tech­nique, there were tricks, and there were excess­ively com­plic­ated counts. It was jam packed with all the ele­ments which make Hip Hop with­in the con­text of theatre so power­ful and rel­ev­ant. Through the Tentacle Tribe’s mas­tery and magic the audi­ence mar­velled and sus­pen­ded belief, watch­ing com­pletely enrap­tured as an octopus intric­ately trav­elled in the ocean, nev­er miss­ing a beat.

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Dan-i & Sia presen­ted a beau­ti­ful love duet. To which Jonzi said “Black love mat­ters. I know all love mat­ters but Black love mat­ters” a lovely touch and sub­ver­sion of the gen­er­ic top­ic­al­ity that Hip hop theatre gen­er­ally deals with. Hip Hop can talk about love. Hip Hop is not just about head­s­pins or the mis­rep­res­en­ted ideas of miso­gyny or viol­ence. They moved with such a sense of pur­pose and truth, story tell­ers of the highest cal­ib­re, per­fectly bal­anced and weighted in their team­work.

Russia’s Cheer­ito provided the most unique style of break­in. His flex­ib­il­ity com­bined with strength allowed him to cre­ate new shapes, path­ways and a qual­ity that will def­in­itely push the world of break­in into inter­est­ing places. Although this was sen­sa­tion­al I found myself not want­ing him to try to provide a nar­rat­ive to his solo. His artistry alone is enough to hold the stage because what his body can do is bey­ond incred­ible.

Black Sheep showed us their 90’s Parisi­an fla­vours with this superbly cho­reo­graphed dis­play of bboy fin­esse, teamed with con­tem­por­ary cho­reo­graph­ic ideas. The form­a­tions were mul­ti-dimen­sion­al. The solos were placed metic­u­lously and the per­form­ance and tech­nique was bey­ond inspir­a­tion­al. It was a fant­ast­ic insight to the Hip Hop scene in Par­is.

Finally the boys from South Korea brought the house down, with a beau­ti­ful com­bin­a­tion of driv­ing live per­cus­sion, vibrant per­formers, more head­s­pins than I have per­son­ally ever seen live, and a huge amount of heart and soul, giv­ing Lon­don a taste of Korean rhythms and flows in a way pre­vi­ously unima­gined. The piece was truly won­der­ful to exper­i­ence and a lovely demon­stra­tion on the mul­ti­fa­ceted nature of Hip Hop how it is able to exist, thrive and be born in mul­tiple spaces.

To any­one watch­ing Break­in Con­ven­tion after its 14th year, still hold­ing the idea that Hip hop Theatre isn’t high art or that it only take ‘ele­ments’ of high art, you are truly mis­taken. In the opin­ion of someone who comes from the ‘high art’ world, this fest­ival every year proves, that it can and will con­tin­ue to stand next to ‘high art’ not only on a nation­al level but on a inter­na­tion­al level too. It demon­strates that we are a part of an archa­ic sys­tem that con­tin­ues to unravel its truth, and that a soci­ety blind to the artistry and tech­nique and vibrancy of the Hip Hop world, would surely be all the poorer without it. The skill, heart and intel­lect show­cased at Break­in Con­ven­tion is of the highest level and qual­ity. It’s about time that these amaz­ing artists get given the cred­it and treat­ment that they deserve. Hip Hop is high art in its purest, rawest and grit­ti­est form.

Break­in’ Con­ven­tion con­tin­ues to be the high­light of Sadlers Wells and UK Hip Hop. Will it con­tin­ue to evolve, chal­lenge, inspire and edu­cate people? Yes. To me this is only the begin­ning. The best is yet to come.

Pho­to­graphy By: Belinda Law­ley

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Valerie Ebuwa

Valer­ie “wing girl” Ebuwa is a freel­ance dance artist and yoga teach­er from East Lon­don. She is cur­rently dan­cing for 3 con­tem­por­ary dance com­pan­ies and is one of the found­ing mem­bers of Eclectics Dance and CEO of Hip Hop House.

About Valerie Ebuwa

Valerie "wing girl" Ebuwa is a freelance dance artist and yoga teacher from East London. She is currently dancing for 3 contemporary dance companies and is one of the founding members of Eclectics Dance and CEO of Hip Hop House.