2023 is year of many mile­stones. It’s widely regarded as the 50th year of Hip Hop cul­ture, and 75th year since the Windrush brought the first big wave of Afric­an Carib­bean people to the UK. One of the many, many beau­ti­ful, import­ant and empower­ing legacies of each of these cul­tur­al phe­nom­ena is Breakin’ Con­ven­tion, the pion­eer­ing plat­form of Hip Hop Dance Theatre cre­ated by Jonzi D, a truly legendary Hip Hop poly­math and a child of Gren­adian migrants of the Windrush generation.

Amongst his incred­ible back cata­logue of mul­tidiscip­lin­ary work, Breakin’ Con­ven­tion is argu­ably Jonzi’s greatest con­tri­bu­tion to glob­al Hip Hop cul­ture, kick­ing down doors for him­self, but more poignantly, blaz­ing a trail for oth­ers and for­ging a plat­form that has become all at once a goal, rite of pas­sage and spring­board for count­less Hip Hop artists, par­tic­u­larly dan­cers, from the UK and inter­na­tion­ally. While so much work is done by an amaz­ing team, Breakin’ Con­ven­tion was born and raised by Jonzi D, and in 2023 his brainchild has turned 20. This mile­stone in a year of mile­stones offers all of us who have been inspired, influ­enced and helped by Breakin’ Con­ven­tion to take stock, acknow­ledge, thank and cel­eb­rate not only the organ­isa­tion, but Jonzi him­self for everything they have done for our community.

That was the atmo­sphere of Breakin’ Con­ven­tion 2023; rev­er­ence and cel­eb­ra­tion. Hav­ing come through the pan­dem­ic years find­ing ways to con­tin­ue to make and sup­port, this felt like the things were back in full effect. The fam­ily vibes in the atri­um of Sadler’s Wells were as strong as ever, with the next gen­er­a­tion of dan­cers and graf­fers scrib­bling and pop­pin’ under the tutor­age of par­ents and pros includ­ing Mr Dane, Bis­mark and Olivia, with res­id­ent DJs Tha En4cers set­ting the soundtrack.

In the Lili­an Bayl­is Theatre, anoth­er devel­op­ment in Hip Hop’s acknow­ledg­ment by the estab­lish­ment was cel­eb­rated with the launch of The Oxford Hand­book of Hip Hop Dance Stud­ies, co-edited by Mary Fogerty. The B‑Girl held an insight­ful con­ver­sa­tion with Jonzi, IAHH fam Manny Adelekun and found­a­tion­al B‑Boys The Legendary Twins, cred­ited with being the first to bring ground moves to Break Dance, which in Jonzi’s words is akin to ‘cre­at­ing fire’. This was fol­lowed by Free­style Funk For­um, with rap­pers going off the top for the crowd’s enter­tain­ment, includ­ing EOW Eng­land 2019 Cham­pi­on Dekay.

All this set a power­ful tone for the main event, and what an event it was. After a jubil­ant and emo­tion­al intro­duc­tion by Jonzi and the ever-present Hip Hop BSL artist Jac­qui Beck­ford, the sold out Sadler’s Wells crowd were treated to immense per­form­ances from the Youth Dance Com­pany (UK), Gully South Block (UK), MOVER (South Korea), Max Rev­ell (UK), Thread­ing Theat­er (Netherlands/UK) and the Ghetto Funk Col­lect­ive (Neth­er­lands).

Stand out per­form­ances for me came from the ener­get­ic, dark, rebel­li­ous Krump of Gully South Block, car­ry­ing on the rich tra­di­tion of the UK Krump scene. MOVER brought some dope moments of bril­liance, like trans­form­ing into a drum machine that triggered their beat­box­er. BBC Young Dan­cer 2019 Max Rev­ell shared a del­ic­ate, poet­ic piece, using shad­ow, his feet, a reversed suit and a sus­pen­ded suit­case to evok­ing the struggle for cre­at­ive people to con­tort them­selves into ‘nor­mal’ jobs and/or to chase the bag while remain­ing or defin­ing themselves.

The major moment of the first half, though, was when The Legendary Twins took the main stage with Jonzi. These pion­eers from the Bronx had flown to Lon­don, at their own expense, insist­ing on present­ing Jonzi with some­thing in per­son. In front of his home com­munity, on his plat­forms biggest event, the Twins read out an accol­ade from the state of New York, acknow­ledging Jonzi and Breakin’ Convention’s con­tri­bu­tion to Hip Hop cul­ture in NYC and glob­ally, as well as announ­cing his induc­tion into the Museum of Hip Hop that is in the works. Jonzi couldn’t con­tain his emo­tions, vis­ibly moved, even­tu­ally to tears, as the scale of his life’s work being recog­nised sunk in. He said “all I ever wanted to do was help people”, and he truly has. To see that help praised and appre­ci­ated to this level was a phe­nom­en­al moment to wit­ness; I can’t ima­gine what it must mean to be on the receiv­ing end.

At the inter­val, I went back to the Lili­an Bayliss to see pieces from Ler­ato Sekonya (South Africa), Dor­ine Mugisha (Tan­zania), and my favour­ite piece by Broken Pen & Ryan Soultribe (UK). I’ve really enjoyed watch­ing Broken Pen grow as an artist over the last 5 years or so. He’s an excel­lent lyr­i­cist, and hav­ing pushed him­self to change and devel­op, rap­ping in mul­tiple lan­guages, per­form­ing spoken word, singing, ven­tur­ing onto The Voice and carving a place for him­self on mul­tiple scenes, to see him now adding move­ment to his rep­er­toire was a treat. He and Ryan com­pli­men­ted each oth­er in a per­son­al, brave piece about men­tal health struggles and vic­tor­ies. I can’t wait to see where Pen takes his tal­ents next.

Once the bell rang for the second half on the main stage, I wit­nessed one of the best per­form­ances I’ve ever seen at Breakin’ Con­ven­tion. La Diva aux Pieds Nus (The Bare Foot Divas) from Com­pany Nic­olas Huchard (France) WENT IN. Mix­ing a pleth­ora of styles, the piece explored – and again revered and cel­eb­rated – Woman­hood, Black Woman­hood, in all its glory. It was mul­ti­pli­cit­ous and mul­ti­fa­ceted, com­mand­ing and caring, impos­ing and intim­ate, expertly using light­ing, move­ment, space and sound to move between European clas­sic­al, Afric­an past, present and future and con­tem­por­ary elec­tron­ic. Each time you thought it was fin­ished it came back with even more, much like Afric­an women through­out the world and his­tory, endur­ing all that is thrown at them while uphold­ing so much. There were moments when it felt like the audi­ence were let into cher­ished, private moments of sis­ter­hood, and moments of sharp defi­ance. I loved it! I’d love to see it again!

The level was set so high, and those who fol­lowed didn’t dis­ap­point. ILL-Abil­it­ies (Netherlands/Brazil) for­mid­ably flew the flag for D/disabled dan­cers, show­ing their strength of char­ac­ter and body, as well as their intric­ate skills. Their huge applause laid the way for an epic per­form­ance from BC stal­warts Boy Blue (UK). Gen­er­a­tions of this com­pany have graced the BC stage since the first one, with Jonzi going so far as to say there would be no BC without Boy Blue. The hype was fully lived up to, with a full crew of intergen­er­a­tion­al, inter-style dan­cers show­ing the ped­i­gree of this com­pany and why they are held in such high regard.

It was the per­fect way to move into the head­line act, as the world fam­ous Les Twins, Rubix and Laura Nala from Crim­in­alz Crew (France) closed the show with a set of indi­vidu­al per­form­ances, all to ‘non-tra­di­tion­al’ pieces of music for Hip Hop dance, includ­ing a flip of ‘Hit Me Baby One more Time’. Each vir­tu­oso showed exactly why they are rated so highly and why the likes of Bey­once call on their skills.

Breakin’ Con­ven­tion 2023 felt like a door­way. A point at which 20 years of incred­ible growth and achieve­ment could be reflec­ted on. But also, in the nature of the organ­isa­tion and its peoples, it felt like the start of the next chapter. Academy Breakin’ Con­ven­tion, an altern­at­ive edu­ca­tion­al facil­ity spe­cial­ising in all ele­ments of Hip Hop cul­ture is on the hori­zon, with Jonzi and the fam again mani­fest­ing some­thing that many have spoken about and dreamed of. This will be the future of Hip Hop cul­ture in this coun­try and it’ll be incred­ible to see what will comes out of it in the next 20 years. All power to it.

The Breakin’ Con­ven­tion 2023 tour kicks off May 17th. Make sure you get your tick­ets in a town or city near you.

Breakin’ Con­ven­tion 2023 UK Tour Dates and Cities

17 May — Poole at Light­house, Poole Centre for the Arts — BOOK TICK­ETS
20 May — Can­ter­bury at The Mar­lowe — BOOK TICK­ETS
23 & 24 May — Ply­mouth at Theatre Roy­al Ply­mouth — BOOK TICK­ETS
27 May — Nor­wich at Nor­wich Theatre Roy­al — BOOK TICK­ETS
31 May — Not­ting­ham at Roy­al Con­cert Hall — BOOK TICK­ETS
3 June — Brighton at Brighton Dome — BOOK TICK­ETS
7 June — South Shields at The Cus­toms House — BOOK TICK­ETS
10 June — Black­pool at The Grand — BOOK TICK­ETS
13 & 14 June — Birm­ing­ham at Birm­ing­ham Hip­po­drome — BOOK TICK­ETS


All pho­to­graphy: Belinda Lawley

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Apex Zero

An emcee, beat­maker, film­maker and writer from Lon­don with Gren­adian roots, Apex Zero has spent his life learn­ing and liv­ing Hip Hop cul­ture, using it to inspire and affect change. Based in Beijing for a few years and reg­u­larly tour­ing the globe, Apex is well trav­elled, and uses the les­sons this provides to inform his art and out­look. He is a mem­ber of the Glob­al­Fac­tion digit­al pro­duc­tion house and the inter­na­tion­al Hip Hop col­lect­ive End of the Weak.

About Apex Zero

An emcee, beatmaker, filmmaker and writer from London with Grenadian roots, Apex Zero has spent his life learning and living Hip Hop culture, using it to inspire and affect change. Based in Beijing for a few years and regularly touring the globe, Apex is well travelled, and uses the lessons this provides to inform his art and outlook. He is a member of the GlobalFaction digital production house and the international Hip Hop collective End of the Weak.