Interview With Ukweli Roach (@UkweliRoach) From Breakin’ Convention !

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)

Train­ing Day

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)

Pulp Fic­tion

The Depar­ted

The Wolf of Wall Street (Mixed reviews but I liked it. The char­ac­ters have a comeuppance)

The Pur­suit of Happiness

The Artist

City of God

Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels


The God­fath­er

 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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 Subika Anwar

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About Subika Anwar

Playwright & Actor. Brand new website. Take a look to find out more about me

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