Review: Breakin’ Convention (@Bconvention) 2015 !

Fea­tured Image — Flockey (Pho­to­graphy by Paul Ham­part­sou­mi­an)

Breakin’ Con­ven­tion
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.

Furi­ous Styles

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.


Ant­oinette Gomis (Pho­to­graph­er: Paul Ham­part­sou­mi­an)

Fluor­es­cent Black

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.


Blue Boy (Pho­to­graph­er : Belinda Law­ley)


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.

iron skulls

Iron Skulls Com­pany (Pho­to­graph­er: Paul Ham­part­sou­mi­an)


The Breaks

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.

les twins

Les Twins (Pho­to­graph­er: Paul Ham­part­sou­mi­an)


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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Wasif Sayyed

Wasif Sayyed

Wasif Sayyed’s many years as a writer, rap­per, pro­moter, ment­or and hip-hop pro­du­cer have shaped him into an enthu­si­ast­ic and insight­ful cul­tur­al cryp­to­graph­er. He loves read­ing and cook­ing, and can hear the whis­per of an unsheathed liquid sword from 50 paces. Twit­ter @WasifScion

About Wasif Sayyed

Wasif Sayyed
Wasif Sayyed's many years as a writer, rapper, promoter, mentor and hip-hop producer have shaped him into an enthusiastic and insightful cultural cryptographer. He loves reading and cooking, and can hear the whisper of an unsheathed liquid sword from 50 paces. Twitter @WasifScion

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