Breakin' Convention, Sadler's Wells, London, review: The hip hop dance festival breaks new ground

Celebrating its 15th anniversary, the festival introduced live music, a joyful collaboration with performers from Jazz re:freshed

Zo Anderson
Tuesday 08 May 2018 12:07
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Locksmiths perform at Breakin' Convention
Locksmiths perform at Breakin' Convention

Breakin’ Convention celebrated a milestone birthday by breaking new ground. For its 15th anniversary, the hip hop dance festival launched into live music, working with 15 musicians from Jazz re:freshed.

It’s a joyful collaboration. From Mufasa’s slinky cello duet to Boy Blue Entertainment’s triumphant finale, the new works glow with shared inspiration.

Founded in 2004, Breakin’ Convention has always focused on hip hop dance theatre, encouraging storytelling and combinations of art forms alongside the dance battles and celebrations of past artists.

It’s determined to showcase the variety of hip hop: away from the main stage, there are workshops, an open-mic programme, plenty of chances for the audience to start dancing. Founder Jonzi D is an extrovert host, matched by brilliant signing from Jacqui Beckford.

This year’s main stage show has conventional first half, with a changing lineup of international artists. The night I went, it made an underpowered opening, with too many works outstaying their welcome. Exceptions included BirdGang, a UK group launching an alert younger generation of dancers.

The show takes off with the live music. This is the 15th anniversary for both the festival and Jazz re:freshed. They make a marvellous team, with a commissioned score from Jason Yarde and a wide range of responses. Dressed in striped t-shirts and period suits, UK crew The Locksmiths whiz through dapper footwork, playful in their reactions to the orchestra.

Jonzi D finds the orchestra respond with a new chord whenever he touches a different part of his body – head, shoulder, elbow. It’s a comic exchange that builds in a spoken word solo about culture and identity. Netherlands crew The Ruggeds show off tight canon and tighter acrobatics, matching a drum solo with a bouncing one-handed balance, rippling through deft twists and turns.

French artist Mufasa dances a gorgeous duet with singer and cellist Ayanna Witter-Johnson. The two women circle and balance each other, Witter-Johnson echoing some of Mufasa’s fluid arm movements, her own singing smoky and rich. It’s a sensuous meeting of minds, creating something both intimate and grand in scale.

Boy Blue Entertainment unleash the full orchestra and a large cast of dancers, moving with taut, ritualistic power before breaking into explosive celebrations. It’s a finale that shows off a range of moods, from driving collective force to some teasing reactions to shifts in the music. Not quite the finale: there was time for one last freestyle, with fast, furious and funny performances from dancers and musicians.

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