As Breakin’ Convention reaches its tenth birthday, it celebrates generations of hip hop dance. The youngest performers on stage on Sunday night were B-Girls Eddie and Terra, who are nine and six years old; the line-up also starred the Electric Boogaloos, the pioneering hip hop group who formed in 1975. From new styles to accepted masters, it’s a festival with sharp moves and a happy sense of community.
The audience coos at the cuteness of Eddie and Terra, who dance with Soul Mavericks, then bursts into applause at their polished windmills and handstands. The adults of the group snap from virtuoso steps into frozen groupings, making frames that other dancers can burst through.
The “next level” in Brooklyn’s Nextlevelsquad is impossible flexibility. This crew uses bonebreaking, a technique that pushes shoulders and elbows to double-jointed extremes. They dance wearing gas masks, faces hidden and distorted as they twist their bodies into tight knots. The audience’s oohs mix with squawks of appreciative horror.
None of these dancers are naturally double-jointed, their frontman explains to Jonzi D, Breakin’ Convention’s founder, curator and host, before he’s embarrassed into giggles by female whoops at his bare torso.
The all-female French crew Zamounda add touches of jazz and African dance to the hip hop mix, slinking and strutting with fierce cool. Another French dancer, Emilie Sudre of Compagnie Révolution, breakdances in spike heels and a little black dress. She’s both seductive and confrontational, purring through her acrobatics in steady slow motion.
The Electric Boogaloos’ number sets them up as exhibits in a museum of music, with a robotic female voice announcing different periods from soul onwards. It plays on the Boogaloos’ reputation as the grand old men of hip hop, while giving them the chance to whisk through their greatest hits. Their style is still taut and distinctive.
Hip hop is full of inspirational slogans, performers talking about challenging themselves. The ILL-Abilities crew, who all have different disabilities, build that language into their set. The show Limitless introduces each man, then shows him overcoming his apparent limits in an explosion of movement. The journey format is a surefire success, but does reduce the amount of time we see them dancing – a pity, since they’re remarkable as dancers, as well as for triumph over adversity.
Breakin’ Convention spills happily off the stage of Sadler’s Wells, which produces the festival. There are freestyle circles in the foyers, demonstrations of graffiti art and beatboxing, people trying things out. Between acts, audience members win t-shirts by jumping on stage to dance – and by dancing well. Hip hop dance’s next generation look ready and eager.
Until 6 May; box office: 0844 412 4300