The international festival of Hip Hop Theatre is back at resident venue Sadler’s Wells for the 8th year and goes from strength to strength. It never fails to challenge, thrill and inspire with a mix of crowd pleasing spectacle and boundary breaking experimentation.
In 2010 some pieces were profoundly challenging for an audience that had come just after the heady delights of So You Think You Can Dance, Got To Dance, Streetdance 3D and a whole plethora of mainstream exposure for hip hop dance styles. A whole year on and it looks as though the audience is better prepared for some of the more thought-provoking and abstract work that takes to the stage on the final night of the festival.
Doors opened at 4pm with freestyling in the foyers, DJ demos from Tha En4cers, and a live graff jam, followed by a thoughtful and impassioned panel discussion with the Chicago Footwork dancers debating the roots and subtlties of the genre with original jazz fusion dancers Gary Nurse and Irven Lewis.
The mainstage programme kicked off at 6pm with Unity, returning to the festival for the fifth time with a piece that had shades of an urban Billy Elliot. Mandem Unite explored the tension between adolescent boys defined by their hip hop dance crew when one expresses his passion for contemporary dance. It was a fine piece to start the evening, encapsulating the challenge at the heart of Breakin’ Convention and the well-chosen popular soundtrack scores the piece, although a long spoken word section would have benefitted by dance accompaniment rather than gesticulating.
Breakin’ Nest are an international under 18 battle crew and indeed, with one of the members celebrating his 15th birthday tonight after the performance with a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday from the audience (Stevie Wonder version) and a cake presented on stage, most of which ends up on said stage. Where the Wild Things Flow was a riot of youthful energy and exhuberance with the distinct feel of a computer game enhanced by the accompanying projections and unfeasible spring in the moves of Korea’s B-Boy Pocket and Child Rock matched by the dedication of Kid-Wild and Dezire.
The buzz from the audience suggested that the big draw of the night was Uganda’s Tabu Flo with Myth of the Night Dancers, developed under direction of Breakin’ Convention’s head honcho Jonzi D. It delivers probably the most theatrical piece of the night, drawing us into a coherent folk tale of duppy-like night stalkers who animate the dead for their own amusement. Danced with incredible athleticism and precision the African inspired movement amuses delights and conveys a compelling story that would happily fill a full show and the audience responded with raucous enthusiasm when Jonzi D if this would be something they would like to see more of.
Leaning more towards the contemporary end of the blend of styles Clash 66 delivered a duet that would fit proudly in any programme of mainstream dance scheduled at Sadler’s Wells. Sébastien Ramirez and Honji brought their classical training to blend perfectly with contemporary technique in Amor & Psyché. Crackling chemistry was reflected in the minimalist electronic soundtrack and the flashes of contact work were, intense drawing audible gasps from the audience. This was Breakin’ Convention at its very best.
The first half of the programme concludes with the ever popular BirdGang. Birdnet tapped firmly into our networked society to tell the tale of non-conformist components trying to avoid eradication by sinister anti-virus detectors in the system. The narrative voice-over and use of projections hold the work-in-progress together and it will be interesting to see how it develops.
The interval offered people the opportunity to tweet @BConvention and see their tweets displayed on a rolling feed in the lobby. Jonzi reads out a selection of the best at the start of the second half, including those that gently tease him for getting Tabu Flo’s white body paint on the curtains of Sadler’s Wells hallowed stage.
Chicago Footwork started the dance in the second half with a showcase of their lightning fast footwork. The moves share common ground with old school Jazz, House, Colombian Salsa Shine and African Sabre dance with lose legs and a relatively poised upper body. The music is a 160 BPM plus House-Techno hybrid that harks back to the early Chicago and Detroit sounds of Derrick May and Juan Atkins at a higher speed. It’s no surprise that Warp Records off-shoot label Planet Mu (set up by Mike Paradinas in 1995 to put out his U-ziq work) has been championing the footwork/ juke movement for a year or so now and this showcase marks the middle of a UK tour for the dancers and DJ’s who are an inseparable part of the movement.
Harmonize by Korea’s Morning of Owl starts with a simple but spectacular sequence of movements where endless gold coins fall from the dancers black suited bodies. The piece explores modern man’s relationship to nature, city living an changes in the pace of life to create existential Hip Hop dance featuring some breath taking breaking that has trademark precision and speed.
What better way to close the show than with Boy Blue Entertainment giving a special 10th anniversary performance of Klockz, the piece they first performed at Breakin’ Convention in 2004. This reprisal saw the piece looking fresh and contemporary – the markers of a true classic – in not only movement but soundtrack and aesthetic. It is fitting that the theme of breaking boundaries set by time and challenging set rules should be so strong in this seminal work, which receives a much deserved standing ovation. Like Boy Blue Entertainment, Breakin’ Convention continues to go from strength to strength, showing why hip hop theatre is important, relevant and wide reaching and has only just begun to show the world what it is capable of.