Review: Breakin' Convention - Sadler's Wells

Performance: 30 April - 2 May 2016
Reviewed by Siobhan Murphy - Tuesday 3 May 2016

The Locksmiths. Photo: Paul Hampartsoumian

Saturday 30 April

The award-winning Jonzi D has, over the decades, become a dedicated standard-bearer for hip hop dance and culture. His Breakin’ Convention festival now takes over the whole early May bank holiday weekend in London and tours the world. Jonzi’s old-school credentials mean his showcase line-ups celebrate traditional skills and values; his desire to see the form move forward mean there’s also a healthy dose of innovation. Both were amply demonstrated in the Saturday night show at Sadler’s Wells.

The schooling started with London-based nine-strong collective The Locksmiths, who danced to Papa Was a Rolling Stone and The JBs, and looked like Sly and the Family Stone as they skilfully placed locking in its original fast and loose funk setting. UK crew Pro-Motion then gave a bravura display of popping, fully exploiting the epic cinematic effects of their beautifully controlled slo-mo and iron-disciplined isolations. Popping legend Damon Frost finished this particular lesson – without even receiving an introduction, he quietly demonstrated how poppers are the technicians of street dance, carefully taking apart the moves and holding them up for examination.

The more experimental work in the UK-dominated first half of the show was certainly diverse. The all-women company Myself UK presented Red, a piece tapping into ideas of female empowerment and solidarity, performed by the dancers in bright red bodysuits. Choreographer Kloe Dean clearly has big ambitions for the group – a lot of Red was closer to contemporary than to street dance – but the rather frantic amounts of movement on stage made the piece feel pretty confusing.

Protocol Dance Company’s dance-drama piece I Can’t Breathe was a sometimes harrowing look at racism and the violence endured by black men (the title a reference to the last words of Eric Garner, who died after being put in a chokehold by NYPD officers). More work is needed on the through-line of the piece, (developed in Breakin’ Convention’s own artist development programmes) and some longueurs should have been smoothed out – but there were powerful ideas at play and a strong sense of harnessing the physical for the political.

Wayward Thread, meanwhile, were keeping it strictly Wu-Tang for Finding Words, which fused breaking skills and martial arts, so that windmills, head and handspins were seamlessly woven into katas and looked like fighting moves. It’s not by any means a new concept but was done with complete dedication to both parts of the equation by Si Rawlinson, Marius Mates and Vladimir Gruev.

For those quick off the mark, there were more performances to be seen in the Lilian Baylis Studio during the one-hour break on the main stage. House of Absolute’s Warrior Queens was certainly attention-grabbing, with its Game of Thrones-style costumes, melismatic, Spanish singing from Lula Mebrahtu, and the titular warrior queens emerging from under a sheet. It was also all a bit baffling. Spoken Movement’s Family Honour was a more powerfully incisive mini-drama, which presented confrontation in a strikingly original way. Face to face across a table, with just exaggerated breaths and vocal sounds as accompaniment, the dancers parried and blocked each other’s hand and arm movements. Elbows ground into hands, cheeks were slapped, hair was pulled as the fraught situation played out, and a father figure loomed like a personification of anger. Kwame Asafo-Adjei’s choreography was muscular, inventive and intriguing.

Back to the main show, and for sheer oddity, the South African pantsula dancers of the Soweto Skeleton Movers won this second half hands down. Whereas a lot of Breakin’ Convention fare inevitably these days looks like it has never seen a street corner or a square of lino, these four men were the ultimate street entertainers, combining the detailed footwork of house and jazz dance, the wince-inducing double-jointed contortions of bone-breaking, the odd magic trick and gallons of showman’s flair. It was unexpected and it was thrilling – an impressive find by Jonzi D.

France’s Bandidas crew brought great Girlhood-style attitude with their sci-fi piece, Womanoide; Canada’s Bboyizm played with group dynamics and unusual music choices (a hip hop dance routine to nuevo tango, for instance) in Music Creates Opportunity – a rather-too-long piece, which nevertheless had enough joyful spirit and displays of technical skill (b-boying and house dancing particularly) to buoy things up.

The final spot was given to Flawless, who have worked their Britain’s Got Talent moment of fame with impressive canniness, as their thundering opening film montage reminds us. The Guardians starts with yet another hip hop/martial arts mash-up – surely, you think, they’re not going to rip off Boy Blue Entertainment’s The Five and the Prophecy of Prana? Well, no; instead the whole piece collapses into a boisterously entertaining mess of sweeping searchlights, Flipmode Squad on the soundtrack and solo spots for each of the crew to show off their crisp, explosive skills. Flawless’s energy levels are astonishing and their enthusiasm infectious – a fitting end to a lively evening.

30 April – 2 May 2016

Siobhan Murphy is a freelance writer and editor, who also contributes to Dancetabs and Time Out. Twitter @blacktigerlily

Main photo: The Locksmiths
Photos: Paul Hampartsoumian

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