This year’s Breakin Convention, the 14th since its inception, has once again proven that Sadler’s wells, despite its classical associations, can be a space inhabited by people from all walks of life, regardless of any societal grouping. Each year the convention, with its electrifying energy and innovation seeks to make and re-make his/her-story, by redefining narratives as it indelibly inks a sense of pride, agency and above all unity upon all that it touches.
I’ve been to Breakin Convention many times, as both an audience member and a performer. I’ve experienced what it is to be within the beating heart of the crowd and also be the adrenaline fuelled carrier of the art on stage. This year I had the opportunity to experience it from the perspective of a reviewer. Watching it from this vantage point proved very interesting as well as enlightening, allowing me the distance to consider the event from many angles.
In one day alone (considering it’s a three-day festival) Breakin’ Convention can, in the name of Hip Hop and culture contain the world in its palm, bringing together artists from South Korea, Canada, Austria, Russia and France as well as the UK. Which begs the question, if these swathes of Hip Hop artists can unite, then why can’t the world? Why can’t we, as seen in the Breakin Convention, unite, finding the joy and interest in our differences, and curiosity rather than conflict?
As ever the line up for this year featured bold and challenging choreography, with a unique mix of dance and theatre, the artists tackled subjects such as police brutality, black love and even began disseminating ideologies surrounding gender norms. All of this whilst still managing to excel in physical brilliance, throwing in some dope head spins and incorporating feats of technical challenge, which have to be seen to be believed.
Opening the show was master-mind and creator Jonzi D with his usual freestyle, reminding us that not only is he a badass dancer but also a masterful lyricist. He was joined by Jacqui Beckford; a beautiful British signer, illustrating that this is a festival designed for everyone.
The first to take to the stage was London’s own Rebirth Network. They presented a clean and dynamic choreography, using art as a political medium to discuss police brutality. The piece included a re-enactment of rioting to which the group split in half, displaying passion, power and the strength of the dancers cleverly directed stage left and right. Although this piece was beautifully performed, well-rehearsed and well thought out, I personally found myself wishing that the focus of the piece was closer to home. Police brutality is an issue here and now in the UK, not just oversees. It would have provided necessary and essential a wake up call to our audience that it is in fact very prevalent in the UK.
The highlight of the festival this year were the female performers, a particularly impressive example was provided with Emma Houston’s intelligent choreography- ‘The Purple Jigsaw’. Here we found a clear illustration of gender stereotypes within the Hip Hop dance sector as well as in the vogue community; a clever depiction which managed to bring to Sadlers Wells a conversation that isn’t usually voiced here. It was the perfect platform to start the conversation. The male performers took the stage with flawless lines and perfect grace, and were brilliantly juxtaposed by the strength and virility of the females throwing down their sickest bgirl tricks and freezes. Men can embody beauty and women can embody a powerful rawness without detracting from either, the absolute definition of breaking conventions.
Theo ‘Godson’ Oloyade’s piece had a brilliant cast of both men and women and contained a short unison section, showcasing the talent prevalent in the females of UK krump, providing a welcoming display of femininity and beauty teamed with raw buckness. It was completely joyous seeing arm swings and jabs that spoke volumes with a power and strength, filling the space all the way to the top of the second circle.
Austria’s Hungry Sharks gave a startling and revealing depiction of how our world now revolves around social media, taking simple gestures such as a thumbs up to show how our world consists of a conveyer belt of likes and dopamine hits. The use of lighting in this piece was particularly poignant in a duet between the Shark’s only female member and a another company members shadow, exemplifying our lack of genuine human interaction and its replacement with mobile phones.
Toronto’s Tentacle Tribe stole the show with their infectious, smooth and articulate choreography. The three women filled the stage with their weaving and interlacing formations, dynamically flowing through the space with fluidity and control, providing a seamless piece of choreography. There was technique, there were tricks, and there were excessively complicated counts. It was jam packed with all the elements which make Hip Hop within the context of theatre so powerful and relevant. Through the Tentacle Tribe’s mastery and magic the audience marvelled and suspended belief, watching completely enraptured as an octopus intricately travelled in the ocean, never missing a beat.
Dan‑i & Sia presented a beautiful love duet. To which Jonzi said “Black love matters. I know all love matters but Black love matters” a lovely touch and subversion of the generic topicality that Hip hop theatre generally deals with. Hip Hop can talk about love. Hip Hop is not just about headspins or the misrepresented ideas of misogyny or violence. They moved with such a sense of purpose and truth, story tellers of the highest calibre, perfectly balanced and weighted in their teamwork.
Russia’s Cheerito provided the most unique style of breakin. His flexibility combined with strength allowed him to create new shapes, pathways and a quality that will definitely push the world of breakin into interesting places. Although this was sensational I found myself not wanting him to try to provide a narrative to his solo. His artistry alone is enough to hold the stage because what his body can do is beyond incredible.
Black Sheep showed us their 90’s Parisian flavours with this superbly choreographed display of bboy finesse, teamed with contemporary choreographic ideas. The formations were multi-dimensional. The solos were placed meticulously and the performance and technique was beyond inspirational. It was a fantastic insight to the Hip Hop scene in Paris.
Finally the boys from South Korea brought the house down, with a beautiful combination of driving live percussion, vibrant performers, more headspins than I have personally ever seen live, and a huge amount of heart and soul, giving London a taste of Korean rhythms and flows in a way previously unimagined. The piece was truly wonderful to experience and a lovely demonstration on the multifaceted nature of Hip Hop how it is able to exist, thrive and be born in multiple spaces.
To anyone watching Breakin Convention after its 14th year, still holding the idea that Hip hop Theatre isn’t high art or that it only take ‘elements’ of high art, you are truly mistaken. In the opinion of someone who comes from the ‘high art’ world, this festival every year proves, that it can and will continue to stand next to ‘high art’ not only on a national level but on a international level too. It demonstrates that we are a part of an archaic system that continues to unravel its truth, and that a society blind to the artistry and technique and vibrancy of the Hip Hop world, would surely be all the poorer without it. The skill, heart and intellect showcased at Breakin Convention is of the highest level and quality. It’s about time that these amazing artists get given the credit and treatment that they deserve. Hip Hop is high art in its purest, rawest and grittiest form.
Breakin’ Convention continues to be the highlight of Sadlers Wells and UK Hip Hop. Will it continue to evolve, challenge, inspire and educate people? Yes. To me this is only the beginning. The best is yet to come.
Photography By: Belinda Lawley
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