Breakin' Convention, Sadler's Wells, London

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The Independent Culture

The first Breakin' Convention, a festival of hip-hop dance held at Sadler's Wells, was a huge hit. This second convention followed the same format as the first, with the same success.

The first Breakin' Convention, a festival of hip-hop dance held at Sadler's Wells, was a huge hit. This second convention followed the same format as the first, with the same success.

It was again directed by Jonzi D, now an artist in residence at the theatre. It was an international festival, with performers from Russia, France and Sweden as well as from Britain and the US. It included a dozen youth companies, plus dance masterclasses and debates. DJs played live in the foyers, encouraging audience members to show off their steps. Sadler's Wells added an extra day to the festival, and Jonzi D threw in a "horror" theme for performances on Friday 13th.

There was a wide range of styles. Breakin' Convention focuses on hip-hop dance-theatre, and its companies find different ways of putting street-dance on stage. There were dramas and concepts alongside pure dance displays.

On Saturday, I saw the French group Franck II Louise mix modern dance and sound technology. Two of these dancers could have fitted into Friday's Hip Horror Night. Their faces were masked, and their hips and elbows cased in what looked like sci-fi armour. As they moved, body-sensors triggered sounds: the steps created the music. A third dancer scuttled around them, twisting himself into scorpion kicks.

Franck II Louise are innovative, and their show had hints of weird drama. It also had long sections of slow-motion writhing, moments when these dancers were trying too hard to be art.

On stage, hip-hop dance is often limited by its own virtuosity. The acrobatic spins and twists have such an impact that softer movement looks flat. This makes it hard to build longer dance sequences: everyone is waiting for the virtuoso moves.

Showtime, another French group, strung their dances together as a gangster drama. Plotting was notional; a voice-over introduced characters and events. The short bursts of solo dancing were what mattered. The dancers started with the locking style, arms pumping and flickering. Torsos mooched and tilted, and they threw in plenty of flips and hand-stands. The drama creaked, but the dancing was fine.

The Russian company Top 9 surrounded their dancing with cheerful showbiz cheese. They piled themselves up into pyramids, they dressed as hip-hop monks, and played chunks of classical music to set up an atmosphere. At the end, they climbed into lifts and balances, spelling out "Top 9" with their bodies. Their Carmen number was the weirdest: this all-male group strutted on in Zorro masks, dragging chairs behind them like a female strip act.

The dancing was muscular and tightly timed. Head-spins and hand-stands ended with a flourish, one for each big chord. Their Paganini number was the wittiest: one dancer, bouncing on his back, fitted those bounces neatly to the violin phrase.

The UK girl-group Flowzaic started quietly, but they're a reminder that hip-hop isn't all stunt-steps. There were some spins and flips, but the loudest cheers came for strutting footwork and juicily swung shoulders.

There was more local pride for Boy Blue, a young group from east London. They threw everything on stage, with big group dances, a few twisting solos, and an unexpected appearance by a ballet girl. They danced with energy.

Rennie Harris Puremovement was one of the biggest names in the festival. Harris has been putting hip-hop into theatres for 15 years, and his Puremovement dancers brought an anniversary medley. The opening March of the Antmen was too quiet to hold this crowd, but Students of the Asphalt Jungle was hip-hop dance at its boldest and clearest. Five men strutted forward for virtuoso solos, sleek and confident.

Breakin' Convention's greatest success is its sheer energy: the range of styles and performers, and the commitment of the audience. I'd never seen so many people running down Rosebery Avenue, eager for the next performance.