Review: B.Supreme at Southbank Centre

Performance: 2 - 4 April 2010
Reviewed by Sam Gauntlett - Wednesday 7 April 2010

b.supreme, 2-4 April, Southbank Centre. Photo: Paul Hampartsoumian

Reviewed: 2 April

B.Supreme – billed as “the only festival dedicated to women in hip hop in the UK” is in its fourth year at Southbank Centre and takes place over Easter weekend, including performances, workshops and screenings throughout the venue. This year highlights included a free performance by Ms Dynamite in the Clore Ballroom on Sunday afternoon.

On Friday night, the UK Supreme show, which includes nine groups, is presented with compere, “Kym” (Nike athlete and European dance consultant Kymberlee Jay) introducing each act. She gets us to “make some noise”, whipping the audience into a frenzied excitement, which is sustained throughout: people call out dancers names and shout words of encouragement. Sometimes it feels more like a local sporting event, with spectators cheering on their athlete friends, rather than a theatre performance, but when an artform comes from the street, theatrical conventions will be thwarted.

Speaking briefly about the history of the festival, our compere asserts that B.Supreme showcases strong women who are proof that you don’t “need to get your kit off” to be a successful woman in hip-hop. I later reflect that this bold statement is perhaps more of an aim than a requirement of the selection criteria; explored rather than fully asserted in this developing festival.

Stylinquents formed at the first ever B.Supreme in 2006, so their performance seems to be an appropriate evening opener, as a taste of what can be achieved in four years. As if to demonstrate Jay’s point, they emerge in baggy red T-Shirts, fresh-faced, with no bling in sight. With mixed tracks, from African drum beats, to disco and hip-hop, the piece moves easily from group formations to spotlighted solos, and the six-strong group have a breezy energy.

Storming the stage in black and white adidas tracksuits and white hi-top trainers, Unity possess razor sharp timing and an attitude to match. With a string of accolades to their name including Official UK SDI Champions and IDO Official World Champions, and having recently appeared on BBC3’s Move It Like Michael Jackson, this large troupe raise the bar, showcasing the inventive choreography of Tashan Muir and Bismark Anobah. The “unity” of the group routines is complemented by short speedy break-out numbers by two or three performers while the others freeze in tableaux. One dancer inspires gasps from the audience when she leap-frogs over the heads of two upright girls and there is a memorable section when some of the girls don Jackson-esque black hats and show us the popping and locking skills that landed them the TV gig dedicated to the late King of pop.

The majority of acts that follow perform group pieces reminiscent of those we have become accustomed to seeing on TV shows such as Britain’s Got Talent, and lack the tight execution and inventiveness of Unity. A handful of groups, however, make a lasting impression due to their originality, bringing something a little bit different to the evening.

Waacktitioners bring a fresh flavour demonstrating Waacking: a dance form that originated in 1970s LA clubs, but is now enjoying a resurgence. In tightly-fitting costumes of nipped-in denim shirts and hot pants worn with heels and lacy tights, the troupe use movements reminiscent of voguing and signifiers of 1940s pin-up posing; fast, complex rhythmical arms and sexy curve enhancing wiggles. One could argue that these girls have taken quite a bit of their “kit” off and, to an extent, are trading on their sexuality. But their exaggerated femininity, and a fearless approach, accompanied by electro club-inspired beats, gives them a unique identity in a sea of very similar street-dance troupes.

Two of the members of Flowzaic, the UK’s first breaking all female crew, perform a humorous duet, with some skillful interaction, but the piece feels unrehearsed, with long, stage-bare gaps between costume changes. An interlude when we watch a single silhouette struggle to change shoes is clumsy but could, with more exploration be a longer and interesting feature of the routine.

Retaliation (usually a larger crew of young men and women) treats us to a female trio that brings more flavour and originality to the evening than any of the acts. Wearing the old-school hip-hop baggy t-shirts, long shorts and trainers, each dancer takes turns in spotlighted body-pop. But this is an emotionally charged performance, opening with Christina Aquillera’s long drawn out tones in power ballad, Hurt. The piece changes pace throughout and we are treated to some energetic funk sections, hard-core hip-hop and some slow beat R ‘n’ B. Each woman has an individual style, but is equally matched in talent, and shows a fluidity and emotional expression in popping I have never seen before.

It’s exciting to see Southbank Centre given over to such dynamic dance, yet every one of the groups seen in this “best of the UK hip-hop scene” show is based in London, and as a relative newcomer to hip-hop, at times the evening feels like I have gatecrashed a private party. Are there really no all women hip-hop groups in the rest of the UK? A less London-centric approach will perhaps bring more variation in style as the festival develops over the years and be more truly reflective of the diversity of the UK.

What’s On