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 Elese

Maya Elese

Edit­or / Author at No Bounds
Mul­ti­lin­gual Lon­don born, bred & based print & broad­cast journ­al­ist, presenter, DJ & cul­tur­al pro­du­cer with a par­tic­u­lar love for glob­al afro-dia­spor­ic cul­tures. @mayaelese on everyth­ang.

About Maya Elese

Maya Elese
Multilingual London born, bred & based print & broadcast journalist, presenter, DJ & cultural producer with a particular love for global afro-diasporic cultures. @mayaelese on everythang.