Breakin’ Convention, Sadler’s Wells, London, review: The dancing is spectacular: one-handed hops, explosive, dizzying upside-down spins

Jonzi D's annual international festival of hip hop dance included acrobatics from South Korea's Just Dance and B-Girl skill from the all-female Canadian crew Tentacle Tribe 

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The Independent Culture

Breakin’ Convention is still full of surprises. Now in its 14th year, the Sadler’s Wells festival of hip hop dance has become a much-loved institution, nurturing new talent and bringing in international stars. Starting as a festival over bank holiday weekend, it’s followed by a UK tour. Just Dance, one of this year’s headline acts in London and on the tour, brought together stupendous hip hop acrobatics with traditional Korean theatre. It’s a thrilling match.

South Korea has a strong hip hop community, producing many champion crews and b-boys. In The 7 Human Emotions, Just Dance are led by a Buddhist monk, in traditional dress with fluttering ribbons and live percussion. The dancers’ black clothes suggest the “stagehand” costume of many Asian theatre styles, worn with brightly coloured masks. A brief voiceover explains the philosophical framework, before the dancers launch into movement.

The dancing is spectacular: one-handed hops, explosive, dizzying upside-down spins. What’s even more remarkable is the way this crew, and choreographer Ducky Kim, build and extend those feats. The dancers have astonishing stamina; they don’t just spin, they spin and spin and keep spinning, while the live Korean percussion builds and drives the rhythms. The wow steps are never isolated, but part of a powerful whole.

Canadian crew Tentacle Tribe, also appearing on the tour, performed an all-female trio. B-Girls Cleopatra, Vic Versa and M-Queen look like the interlocking parts of a complex machine, one dancer’s precise moves setting off echoes that ripple through the group. The bending, folding steps are as intricate as origami.

The event showcases the breadth of hip hop dance theatre. Away from the main stage, Tom Tsai explored Taiwanese identity, while Magero tells a spoken word tale full of twists and turns.

Dan-I and Sia’s Slave, Croon, Quell is a very tender duet, showing a couple moving from daily grind to comfort and mutual support. Hip hop doesn’t often focus on love stories, and this one has a down-to-earth sweetness that is very touching. I also liked Houston Dance Collective’s The Purple Jigsaw, which combines breaking and vogue, the four dancers rippling from fluid moves to sharp-edged freezes. Emma Houston’s choreography shows a confident sense of theatre, combining strong individual moves with bold groupings.

The whole show is hosted by artistic director Jonzi D, who combines lively stage presence with understanding of how to keep the pace moving, with the exuberant sign interpreter Jacqui Beckford. It’s a joyful event.

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