BWW Reviews: BREAKIN' CONVENTION: A Sadler's Wells Project
There was a presenter who caught my attention at this past year's Blumey Awards. He spoke with passion about art and musical theatre and his upcoming show, BREAKIN' CONVENTION. He piqued my curiosity and he didn't disappoint, Jonzi D, founder and artistic director of Jonzi D Projects and BREAKIN' CONVENTION, brought a great show to Blumenthal Performing Arts, Knight Theater at Levine Center for the Arts this weekend.
BREAKIN' CONVENTION MCs, Jonzi D and Bluz came out rapping, telling the audience to throw their hands up in the air and have a good time. It made me happy, because most shows aren't loose. When Jonzi D and Bluz presented the first dance group the audience did something unexpected, they cheered clapped, but also screamed, "You' got 'dis." and "Get it!" The first piece was performed by NC Dance District incorporating the classic feel of hip-hop in with remixed songs and pop culture jokes to get the audience fully immersed into the atmosphere of the show. A group called Breakers for Life came out with their crew, but one thing was unexpected, they were kids! The audience went crazy watching 3-12 year-olds break dancing. The number ended with B-girl Connie doing many smooth, consecutive headpins, bringing the audience to a standing ovation. Compagnie Phorm from France, was an incredible duo to watch. Their movements were so synched with each other that they moved as one.
My favorite dance piece was from a group called BirdGang Dance Company, from the United Kingdom, who performed Vice, a hip-hop dance. It was more of an emotional performance art piece. The spotlight focused on a man dealing with addictions, depression and his demons, melding acting with dance. I was drawn in to his emotional pain and wanted this piece of performance art to continue, it was that good.
When Jonzi D and Bluz came out and said that a forty-five minute intermission was starting, I was confused, until they said that there were food trucks, ice-cream, graffiti artists, and DJs outside. When I exited the theatre, I found the pillars I had passed multiple times were now sprayed in beautiful graffiti, and there was a dance circle forming in the lobby in front of a DJ named, DJ Shogun. There was also a stage outside playing music with dancers performing. I watched the dance circle inside for some time, as people with different dance backgrounds entered the circle. At certain points, small children, who looked about 2-4 years-old, entered with very surprising skills when it came to breakdancing. Performers who already performed were in the lobby partaking in the dance circle and taking pictures with audience members. Jonzi D and Bluz were walking among the crowd meeting and talking to people. It was an incredible atmosphere and so unique. This show's audience was vastly diverse, there were people in suits, polo shirts, snapbacks, hoodies, and T-shirts. Even the security and staff were bopping from side to side.
I realized I hadn't taken advantage of what BREAKIN' CONVENTION had to offer. Earlier in the day they had dance lessons for kids, DJs, and different graffiti artists showing people the "how-to" of graffiti.
After intermission, Jonzi D said, "We turned a theatre show into a concert show and back into a theatre show," which perfectly described what the audience had just experienced. The second act started with a man named Aquaboogy, showcasing sharp popping and waving techniques in a piece focused on overcoming fear. Jonzi D and Bluz made a 'shout-out' to an artist who had passed away some years back named Nina Simone. Antoinette Gomis, a French dancer, performed Images, a tribute to her. With my lack of knowledge of who Ms. Simone was, I found the dance compelling and it made me want to know more about her and the type of art she performed.
Jonzi D and Bluz then introduced two men who need no introduction when it comes to breakdancing, Keith and Kevin Smith, The Legendary Twins. They were pioneers in this art form and mentioned, as kids, they had to move their mother's coffee table in the Bronx to create this art. The next crew was The Ruggeds, from the Netherlands, world champions of breakdancing. They are as good as breakdancing gets. The choreography was sharp as it could be and there were moments in the performance that I honestly thought that there was no way humanly possible that this performance was being done. At the end of the performance, both Jonzi D and Bluz came out with inspiring words saying that the audience could be on this stage next year.
I got to meet Jonzi D after the show and asked him about what made him want to put something like this together, he explained, "I made my first show in 1995, but there was no one else in the area doing the same kind of thing and I felt lonely." He continued, "I started touring around Europe and would find amazing talented people. I thought, man, I could pull these people together and make a genre out of it. It all started because I felt lonely."
Fifty percent of the acts are locally based. Tom Gabbard, President of Blumenthal Performing Arts explained, "We have gone out to the community with this show to support talent like Tron [Robinson] throughout the year. I first saw Jonzi D at Sadler's Wells Theatre in London. I sent my team back to bring this show to the states. BREAKIN' CONVENTION will be back next year."
BREAKIN' CONVENTION is not just a show or a festival, it's an experience. The inspiration and meld of street art surrounding this show is more than rare to find. The ability to see the best of local and international talent on one stage is not something that you find in Charlotte often. Don't miss the opportunity to see this show next year, and don't make the mistake I made by not going earlier in the day to be part of the other activities!