Breakin’ Convention 2012 review (Sadler’s Wells Theatre)


Breakin’ Convention, the international festival of hip hop dance theatre, took place at Sadler’s Wells Theatre this bank holiday weekend with headliners Vagabond Crew and Clash 66 and a host of leading UK and international dance companies.

Breakin’ Convention, the international festival of hip hop dance theatre, took place at Sadler’s Wells Theatre this bank holiday weekend with headliners Vagabond Crew and Clash 66 and a host of leading UK and international dance companies.

Opening its doors to a sold out audience Breakin’ Convention affirmed itself as a true festival of hip hop with a plethora of foyer activities meaning that everyone had something to do and a reason to get involved in the action rather than being an observer (I mean, what do you pay good money for, to stand around?!): People standing by were gently coaxed into freestyle circles to have a go and a digital graffiti wall had children throwing up their name on an electronic canvas much to the envy of every kidult!

With so much to do daily including an unmissable Freestyle Funk Forum improv jam in the studio theatre ahead of the main show, you’d almost forget about the main show it was that good. And just because you’re involved in a project doesn’t mean you’ve seen the entire thing, and for the most part of working on Breakin’ Convention this year I avoided watching tech rehearsals to be able to watch the show as an audience member…

Breakin’ Convention 2012 review

This year’s show featured some unmissable programming including ILL-Abilities who never fail to astound and impress second time round after seeing them for the first time at IBE later last year. An international crew of thoroughly-abled international b-boys despite having various physical impairments that challenges audiences to change their perceptions of disabled people and their philosophy to life: No excuses, no limits, and there ain’t no stopping them!

French/German duet Clash 66’s rework of Amore & Psyché as AP15 was as spectacular as ever which still redefines how male-female duets that include technicality while still maintaining chemistry should be done, and the French later ruled la maison with Serial Stepperz’ in-time house and hype dancing and Vagabond Crew’s epic-length Alien.

Breakin’ Convention’s artistic direction for this year presented new ways to show how UK dance leads the way in the hip hop dance theatre genre: As part of Breakin’ Convention’s Back to the Lab project under the mentoring of Jonzi D and Jasmin Vardimon, Ivan Blackstock, Simeon Qsyea and Botis Seva all delivered original, conceptual pieces that pushed the dance theatrically with attention to detail given to lighting and set pieces better dramatic effect.

Video: Breakin’ Convention Back to the Lab

All three of their performances began with long introductions to capture your attention, which the audience, despite mostly being avid hip hoppers, was very tolerant of. Ivan’s Reverie went through all the repetition of a sleepless night paying off with nostalgic comedy of things that go bump in the night centered around a fairytale wardrobe; Botis’ mind control piece was another slow beginning, forgiven because of his mastery of movement and interpretation of the beat, and Simeon Qsyea dared to go where most street dancers would not: using spoken word as his soundtrack with the gentle squeak of trainers on studio floor to set the rhythm in What Does It Mean to be Hip Hop?

London’s youth dance groups smashed it as well, with Da Bratz opening the festival showing how Kenrick Sandy‘s legions of young dancers consistently hold it down for East London, Zoonation Youth Company presenting signature Kate Prince lyrical mastery while Avant Garde Dance Company unleashed the beast in a Greek mask spectacular like an Eyes Wide Shut orgy of contemporary dance in a hip hop package.

There was something for everyone including the more commercial street dance audience, with Unity UK‘s Code of Conduct showing an extract of a larger scale production, and Boadicea who took their performance in a different direction with The Reign. Fierce it was, as expected, but using much more of the girls’ range of dance disciplines that they weren’t able to bring through while on Got to Dance.

The highlight in terms of truly breaking the convention and showing people something they’ve never seen was Storyboard P, the mutant (bruk up/flexing) dancer that has the ability to glide across the floor as though he was an ice skater. With the audacity of freestyling to Marvin Gaye while throwing freakish shapes in different outfits each night, it took until Monday’s performance to refine his performance for Sadler’s Wells’ stage and still captivate the audience, lost in his own world.

The old school was represented by PT.3000, a homage to Pop Tart’s (the crew leader) earlier group, Demons of the Mind, San Francisco’s original strutting crew. Like funky oompah loompahs complete with wigs and face paint their costumes looked fly although the performance looked like it had lost some of the edge it would have had since the days when the crew was more than three members. That said the original strutting style of hitting ‘the one’ beat and canonical movement was present if not a little rusty, although I’m expecting to see it sprinkled within street dance sets over the next few months…

A mention also has to go to Theo ‘Godson’ Oloyade and Buckness Personified for representing krump. With a larger stage to perform on since their debut at Serious About Street Dance, Buckness some of the intimacy with more stage space to fill, but still held it down and represented for the female krump community, while Theo’s solo performance which incorporated more floor movement this year overflowed with frustration and drama with being trapped in the music.

Breakin’ Convention? It did it again. The standard set as high as ever with a balanced variety of performances and a broad range of styles. Even the more abstract performances will set new standards for the future generations to strive to attain, while the foyer activities completed the package by representing hip hop’s ethic of coming together and having fun!

Being on both sides of the fence for Breakin’ Convention for another year something you’re involved with can lose some of the passion: It hasn’t. By day three (Monday) the foyers were packed with people having a good time and the vibe in the auditorium was electric and long may it continue as the festival goes on tour!

Breakin’ Convention tours throughout May 2012

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