Featured Image — Flockey (Photography by Paul Hampartsoumian)
Saddler’s Wells, London, 2nd & 3rd of May 2015.
“Dance, when you’re broken open. Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance when you’re perfectly free.” – Rumi.
2015 has been a tumultuous year. The continued expendability of Black lives has led to revolts in communities oppressed by police brutality and a racist judicial system all over the USA. The visceral reality communicated in photography from the streets of Baltimore today is not dissimilar to the strife imagery exhibited prior to the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Forged from poverty’s ubiquity in the 1970s, Hip-Hop’s growing tendrils were already supporting the minds of young Black and Hispanic kids in the Bronx whose creations would change the world for decades to come. Re-routing electricity from street poles to power park parties with DIY sound-systems; dancing to break-beats and toasting emcees, and feeling good about yourself and your fly attire surrounded by tapestries of graffiti was itself revolutionary action. There is joy to be found through struggle, and out of this emerged the most influential dance cultures of the century.
Breakin’ Convention, spearheaded by artistic director Jonzi D is in its 12th year of “celebrating, elevating and supporting hip-hop dance theatre.” Rooted in b‑boy and b‑girl culture, Breakin’ Convention presents solo and group mastery of top-rocking, locking, popping, crumping, tutting and waacking combined with contemporary and classic styles. All furious. And all revelled over two nights at Sadler’s Wells full of breath-taking stunts and sublime motion.
France’s street-dance luminary Antoinette Gomis’ piece Images´ began a stationary sombre lamentation of a Black woman’s deflated self- image at the hands of white European ideals. Exquisite waacking to Nina Simone’s rendition of Warey Cuney’s poem (“she does not know her beauty, she thinks her brown body has no glory”) transitioned into self-discovery, empowerment and love as Nina’s Sea Line Woman triumphant up-tempo took over to allow Gomis to gazelle around the stage in splendour. Black power remained at the forefront via time travel to April 4 1968, where Jade and Shango (as Edna and Thomas Chapman) hear news of Martin Luther King’s assassination over the radio and proceed to lindy hop and jazz dance their despair over the next three minutes. Disasters happen. The beat doesn’t stop. The Dance continues.
Blue Boy Entertainment are considered London’s most important street dance institution by many and on evidence of their sprawling epic The Dojo, it is easy to see why. B‑boy and B‑girl culture has always had an affinity with martial arts and it is easy to pick visual similarities to Kung Fu, capoeira and jailhouse rock/52 blocks. The Dojo is expertly choreographed by ten of Blue Boy’s tutors and incorporates the animal styles of Shaolin Kung-fu and movement to represent Wu Xing’s five phases (wood, fire, earth, metal and water). Featuring over thirty performers, many in their teens and some as young as seven years old, the story of a master teaching a dojo of rambunctious youths who eventually master discipline and movement; lead themselves into battle against a foe who is defeated and then assimilated into their ‘tao’. This is as beautiful as it is representative of a generation passing-the-baton to ensure a prosperous future. Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante’s music provides a soaring soundscape for the piece that would rival any Shaw Brothers masterpiece.
Freedom to Express
Personal journals were documented through performance as Flockey of Germany explored alcohol addiction and an obscurity from sense and meaning; locking and jazz dancing through the light and shadows accompanied by a generations spanning soundtrack featuring James Brown, Marvin Gaye and Kendrick Lamar. Australia’s Gianna G immaculately utilized puppet-like motions, dancing to invisible strings as she recollected her interpretation of placebo, nocebo and mind over matter in relation to our own bodies. Adorning Hip-Hop’s fashionphilia, Saran Kohli and company celebrated his slick return to the dance world with a well heel and suited routine. Kohli is also a fashion designer and created the company’s dapper wardrobe. Elsewhere, Protocol Dance Company combined explosive bursts of energy and lucid motions to examine patriarchy’s role in the complexities of masculinity: an interesting perspective asking questions throwing back to the b‑boy battles of the 70s where gang beefs were settled (and sometimes started) through dance.
Experimental pieces by Iron Skulls Company (Spain) and Lloyd’s Company (Netherlands) pushed the boundaries of Hip-Hop dance to the ledge. The former utilized hip-hop, acrobatics and contemporary dance as gas-mask wearing animalistic humanoids. In a post-apocalyptic darkness, performers fervently danced out of the crowd onto the stage with the only light in the performance emanating from the troupe’s flashlights. They disappeared back into the same darkness of the crowd for the finale. Lloyd’s Company’s Xisco and Rabani emerged as one person in gold light, to seemingly separate and battle each other – is this one against oneself or the displaced human condition that separates individuals from one another? Most of the piece was performed without music with apparition like fluidity yet bordered on littanous. The reward for enduring was received however, when the duo fused back into one under the primordial gold light.
For all the high conceptualisations, self-indulgency was generally kept to a minimum and none were as joyously self-assured and without pretence as G.O.P Dancers. Patience James and Fumi Opeyemi’s blend of azonto, n’dombolo and other Afro styles fused together for a raucous reception where energy levels spiked to rapturous amidst the pounding drums and shaking hips for their piece What’s in the Bag?. Hip-Hop first generation made a special appearance courtesy of the Legendary Twins who introduced London’s own Twin Peaks’ mirrored performance which led into the most renowned names on the card Les Twins. Larry and Laurent Bourgeois freestyled mix of slow-motion robotics and up-tempo moves augmented why they are a staple of Beyonce’s world tours. Their synchronicity seemed telepathic, the way the twins would finish one another’s moves with spectacular flamboyance and showmanship.
For those who preferred a B‑boy and B‑girl throw-down with fewer frills; Mamson of Serial Stepperz choreographed Soul Footwork Collective raised the flag for UK routines and current UK B‑Boy champions The Rugged (Netherlands) continued to innovative in tradition with breath-taking acrobatic stunts, one-ups in a physical adrenaline fuelled paragon of breaking.
Since becoming a globalised entity, Hip-Hop has become a lense through which the practitioner sees the world; and their art becomes a projection of this reality. From social calls to action to showboating displays of ill skills: Breakin’ Convention showcased more electrifying diversity than casual observers of either dance or the Hip-Hop-sphere would hope to expect.
‘Our manifesto is peace, love, unity and having fun’ proclaimed Jonzi D. Sadler’s Wells multi-tiered building was bursting with participative activity for all ages: graffiti workshops, dance classes (led by performers such as Antoinette Gomis, Gator and Les Twins) and DJ and dancing ciphers peppered the schedule climaxing in a free park party to close the Bank holiday weekend. Future Elements is a project for 13–16 year olds to make an entry point into the dance world and this year an exciting music video entitled Unsocial Media was premiered on stage. Like the rigorous synchronised training displayed in The Dojo, Breakin’ Convention is establishing its legacy. 2016 couldn’t come soon enough.
Review by Wasif Sayyed
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