Breakin’ Convention 2010 at Sadler’s Wells Theatre (review)


big-city-brains-breakin-convention-2010Seven years down the line and Breakin’ Convention is still looking healthy. Since last year there may have been more dance talent shows on TV (and a movie on the way) than you can shake a stick at, but Breakin’ Convention is the event that keeps hip hop and street dance in check.

Taking place from Thursday to Monday, Breakin’ Convention returned for another year across Sadler’s Wells and the Lilian Baylis Theatre, reminding people why it’s the event of the year for hip hop theatre, and giving the back wall of the mezzanine a graffiti makeover to mark its stay.

This year’s show had fewer international pioneers, instead recruiting some of our own home grown OGs, seeing the House of the Quiet Storm reuniting for a special old school popping set. Tony GoGo, Poppin’ Pete and Lockadelic also checked in to take part in a Greg Campbellock Jr tribute on Monday.

There was also an emphasis on politics, domestic violence from Unity and Unity Youth, and identity in the form of Compagnie Psycho’s Bleue demonstrating the standard of worldwide hip hop theatre.

Even Status, who performed their interpretation of Alice In Wonderland, an extended version of their set on Got To Dance, proved that commercial success hadn’t affected their knack for quality choreography and creative costume.

Breakin’ Convention 2010: On with the show…

Breakin’ Convention wouldn’t be the show it was if it didn’t stray slightly from the action. Distractions were aplenty over the three nights: During a free t-shirt giveaway Jonzi was distracted by the cuteness of a four year old who wanted to win. Not willing to succumb to cuteness again, the second time around he brought up two kids and challenged them battle for the prize!

Akai, winner of Got To Dance, was a last minute addition to the line up and had the audience screaming during his short set (he does have skills, considering his age), and Bashy crashed the proceedings in character to plug the return of Jonzi D Productions’ Markus The Sadist.

On Sunday night the show ran over as everyone held hands in an attempt to break a 1,800 strong non-stop body wave, working its way from the second circle all the way down the stairs to the stalls. It apparently worked, even though the wave split into several as it reached the stalls!

Despite the minor distractions the show got underway, totalling 25 performances in the main theatre over three nights.

France’s Phase T performed their set Trop Tard which I first saw at Sadler’s Wells Sampled 2010. For Sampled the piece was a work in progress, and I don’t remember any significant changes this time round. That doesn’t mean it was bad, just nothing was improved. Some of the moves were incredibly risky but very well rehearsed – sliding across the stage using a fellow dancer as a skateboard, anyone?

Pro-Phenomen, also from France, was one of the best acts. Their style was very nu-style heavy, their choreography hitting every subtlety in the music, and also experimenting with acrobatics using balance and counter-balance creating the illusion they were floating.

goodfoot-breakin-convention-2010Goodfoot dance at Breakin’ Convention 2010The audience favourites were Big City Brains from Denmark, who performed an abstract popping and mime set Robiality 2020 (top picture), a slapstick story of four foolish poppers, while House of the Quiet Storm’s appearance took it back to street style performance for Class of 82.
A shorter popping set opened Monday’s show as Goodfoot (pictured, left) opened the Box, who weren’t afraid to try something different, like dancing to Shania Twain. Read our interview with Goodfoot here.

Contemporary acts were not Breakin’ Convention’s selling point. Mickael ‘Marso’ Riviere’s piece Eteins Pas about life after death began with a minute of lying dead on the floor before a spasmodic resurrection to an operatic score. It was graceful, but too challenging to hold a hip hop audience’s attention, and misunderstood.

Renegade from Germany was another group that suffered, lasting much longer at 50 minutes, with abstract dancing, breaking and bicycle tricks thrown in for appeal, yet probably not the ideal choice, testing the patience of an audience made up of street dance, not classical dance, fans.

Unity's Venus vs Mars Part 2 at Breakin' Convention 2010That said, the most powerful pieces this year were Adiaspora’s Frusted and Unity’s Venus vs Mars Part 2 (pictured, right).

Frusted is a fusion of Afro-eclectic repertoire fused with contemporary, which I first saw at Local International. Five women on stage expressed their frustrations about every day life to a threatening soundtrack, it was as moving this time round as it was the first time at Stratford Circus.

Unity and Unity Youth’s Venus vs Mars was gripping and well directed for the delicate subject of domestic violence.

As usual, Unity’s fans screamed the house down as their set began with a dance set, not hip hop theatre set – a cheeky nod at their recent TV appearances on Move Like Michael Jackson. Come the second half, though, and the mood changed for the sinister Venus and Mars Part 2.

Had it been directed or performed any other way it could have backfired, but it was performed with the right balance of drama and sensitivity to have a lasting impact, and no matter how fast the choreography, Unity never danced out of sync. Read our interview about Venus vs Mars here.

Compagnie Psycho makes the list of outstanding acts with Bleue. Antoinette Gomis is an incredibly versatile dancer who owned the stage with her solo performance, choreographed by Wanted Posse’s Babson. At 30 minutes attention levels varied as she expressed her frustration at Western society’s beauty values through Afro house to locking and popping, but she danced strong consistently.

Radical (Woolwich Polytechnic Krumpers) at Breakin' Convention

There was a krump number from Radical (formerly Woolwich Polytechnic Krumpers, who were performers at the Live Vibe final 2009), directed by Hakeem Onibudo.

Although krumping is misunderstood by the mainstream as stomping and arm flailing, Our Streets examined it as an outlet of rage, but justifiably explained it to the audience in a series of narrations by the dancers – in English and their native languages – communicating to the audience that krump is a way of expressing emotion, not just a wild dance.

Greg Campbellock Jr Tribute at Breakin’ Convention Greg Campbellock Jr Tribute
Many of the acts who performed at Breakin’ Convention were also in the country to participate in the Greg Campbellock Jr tribute on Sunday. Dancers from Plague, Hilty and Bosch, Flowzaic and more all joined Suga Pop and Tony GoGo on stage for a Soul Train party complete with oversize Lockers berets and Micky Mouse gloves to send of their friend and teacher.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that technically, Breakin’ Convention 2010 looked outstanding with well placed lighting making all of the performers look sensational.

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