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BWW Review: BREAKIN' CONVENTION, Sadler's Wells

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BWW Review: BREAKIN' CONVENTION, Sadler's Wells

BWW Review: BREAKIN' CONVENTION, Sadler's Wells It's an immediate testament to the enduring appeal of Breakin' Convention, Sadler's Wells annual festival of hip-hop theatre, now in its 16th year, to see the queues of people snaking round the block of the imposing building. They are dressed much more casually than the usual demographic that attends a show at this theatre.

It's further heartening to see that the masses are made up of all-comers - young, old, black, white, couples, families - and that all the spaces in the venue - the foyer, the mezzanine floors - have been co-opted to accommodate elements of hip-hop culture such as graffiti, freestyling, DJs and Caribbean food. Even the Lilian Bayliss studio is given over to showcasing emerging dance talent, whose quieter dance styles are more fitting for an intimate space rather than the cavernous depths of the main stage.

It's an ethos of Breakin' Convention to break down the fourth wall as much as possible, so the mood is further enhanced by the presence of the dancers who will grace the stage milling about with the pre-show crowd. This includes founder of Breakin' Convention and Sadler's Wells Associate Artist Jonzi D, and beaming from ear to ear with his sons in tow, and the Artistic Director of Sadler's Wells, Alistair Spalding, which in itself is a rare occurrence.

This festival has played no small part in ensuring that hip-hop dance theatre becomes the respected genre that it is in the UK today. That's because Breakin' Convention is committed to staying true to the origins and evolution of hip-hop culture, and has actively championed the development of the art form through its international touring, professional development, youth projects and educational programme. It's determined to create the same infrastructures that ballet and contemporary dance have enjoyed for decades. All this ensures that its production values are befitting for a world-renowned, serious dance stage such as Sadler's Wells.

All the familiar elements of hip-hop dance (and some that are surprising to see included) are here. First on stage on this second night of performance is The Locksmiths dancing a locking (well, of course) interpretation of musical chairs. They bop around a loop station of electronic instruments manned by Adam Liston, who inserts live flute and guitar into the music track intermittently, setting the mood with their infectious and relaxed sunniness. They are followed by Gulf Dance Company, a duet who combine robotic conflict with the sinuous and boneless movements of a snake in a piece called Human.

Next up is a 15 year-old-girl, Logistx, from San Diego who Jonzi D introduces as "the future of b-girling". Using philosopher Allan Watts's words as inspiration, she performs in a pool of cool light, executing many familiar tricks such as flips and helicopters with an uncommon balletic grace. It's no exaggeration when Jonzi D says that her dance expression is way beyond her years.

Agnes Sales and Hector Plaza from Spain, performing a piece called Blue Monday, have an uncanny take on what hip-hop dance theatre should look like. It involves the bobbing and weaving movements of sparring boxers, the catch and release of acrobats, the thrust and flow of acro yoga. Towards the end, an extended part of it is danced in silence. It's absolutely mesmerising and defies easy categorisation.

A crew from France, Geometric Variable, scale up the complex hand gestures of tutting (tutting is named after King Tutankhamun on account of the sharply angled arms and hands of figures painted on Egyptian tombs) to five dancing bodies. Their close-knit shaping and reshaping of their bodies, especially their upper limbs, are simultaneously animalistic and mechanical and look exactly like the constant reconfiguration of a kaleidoscope. It's dazzling, clever and functions at the junction where dance meets mathematics.

Company Même Pas Mal, featuring iconic b-boy Junior Bosila from France and Kalli Tarasidou from Greece, bring a high-concept approach to hip-hop with their piece, Addiction. As a form, it's porous, contains multitudes and owes more to contemporary dance than some purists might allow. Bosila's distinctive style and gravity-defying upper-body strength draws audible gasps from the crowd.

The eight-piece Jinjo Crew, reigning Battle of the Year World Champions from South Korea, provide serious athleticism, lightning-fast costume changes that include traditional Korean attire, and dynamic wow factor in moves (how is it possible to perform the helicopter with your hands bent behind your back?) that are uncommon to your average hip-hop dance audience.

When the last act of the night - the award-winning Boy Blue from east London, who have performed at Breakin' Convention for almost as long as it's been in existence - take to the stage, they are greeted with rapturous applause.

There are at least 20 very young dancers on the stage presenting EOE 3: Because We Can. It encapsulates the sheer joy dancing invokes, engendering a sense of community and capping off a brilliantly thrilling night of pure dance magic. If you think you know hip-hop, then Breakin' Convention makes you think again in the most intelligent way.

Breakin' Convention was at Sadler's Wells

Photo credit: Sadler's Wells


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