Breakin’ Convention – my review

Call me naïve or idealistic, but my blood boils when I see a journalist display such hubris that they roll up half way through the performance they’re reviewing. That happened recently and it rankles even more for knowing that a quote from the right publication might nudge their next grant application from neutral to success. I kept a bottle on my fury at Breakin’ Convention (at the time) and promised myself that my own review would tell as much of the whole story as was possible.

My promise to myself turned out to be hubris as well. In journalism the editor always has the final say and you’d not know that I had been at the first half of Saturday evening from what was left. That’s how it goes, and the reason why I don’t normally read my work once it’s published, and in retrospect I can understand why, the piece was very dense, overly enthusiastic and might be considered biased.

Nonetheless, here it is in full. I’ll try to do better in the future.

Not my image, since I wasn’t allowed to shoot the main acts.

Sadler’s Wells’ Breakin Convention Structured, informative and insightful workshops, performances, graffiti and sharings is overwhelmingly busy. It’s hard to decide which workshop to visit, or whether to take a break or go see another performance during the interval, and impossible for just one person to do everything justice, so I haven’t tried. Instead I’ve presented my own impressions and asked people who I know were around when I wasn’t to give their impressions too. It’s not what a review should be, but in being more democratic and less conventional I hope it follows the spirit instead.

The diversity of performers, people and art forms is so huge that the wealth of impressions has not yet resolved in my mind. Black Sheep’s Wild Cat’s super-light footwork and feline movements was a declarative piece developed from styles created in 90’s Parisian b-boy scene. The premier of Balance (which I’d have liked to have been longer) profiled Cheerito’s fluent and furiously freakish flexibility. The Hungry Sharks danced an investigation of how modern technology shapes character and how conformity is a constant pressure despite the infinite possibilities of global networking and Just Dance (Korea) delivered a slightly bewildering mix of b-boy and traditional performance culture with the professionalism we’ve come to expect.

Old Men Grooving (OMG) provided an energetic and hilariously well executed tongue-in-cheek response to the idea that you’re never too old to dance while; although it’s an old theme, Rebirth Network’s story of the pain resulting from an uncaring and prejudiced justice system is increasingly relevant. The Houston Collective’s Purple Jigsaw, a seamless blend of hip hop and voguing produced a gender-neutral type of movement that was intriguing and far too short. The inextricable interweaving of the Tentacle Tribe’s extraordinary idiosyncratic movement vocabulary in Origami Mami was intriguing. Theo ‘Godson’ Oloyade’s earnest krump exploration of August Rodin’s work The Gates of Hell was well put together with an extraordinarily moving introduction which I’d like to see extended and the awesome intricate, passionate, poignant and mutually supportive blend of street and contemporary duet by Dani Harris-Walters and Sia Gbamoi still makes me smile.

Away from the main stage I met a breakdancing academic doing energetic workshops just 3 months after having had a baby, a strange American woman giving out t-shirts that declared we love dance, watched a Tiny Totrock Session (which does exactly what you’d expect) and Open Circles where kids who have barely started school show their own cool grooves alongside serious battlers having fun. I passed the Graff Zone where people learned to tag with Mr Dane, was bemused by the Fire Organ where artists and audience, a young people’s choir in New York City and Breakin Convention audience could participate in a live freestyle cypher. Unfortunately I only had a one-day ticket and couldn’t attend everything even then, so I asked some interesting looking people to contribute to this review.

 

Nefeli Tsiouti; Dance battler, dance scientist performer and progenitor of Project Breakalign (Cyprus and London); “Breakin’ Convention has always been a ‘festive’ festival of people getting together, celebrating community, skills, new ideas and an opening of the spectrum of hip-hop. I’ve followed it for years, sometimes as an active participant and other times not. I really appreciate that, through the continuous inclusion of Breakalign, that Breakin’ Convention facilitates the discussion and demonstration of ways to improve and maintain health and wellbeing in this international gathering. I’d be intrigued to see some dance theatre pieces that celebrate the body from within, especially in relation to health and what goes on inside us.”

AJ Crazybeat Glasco; performer, creative artist and founder of CrayzeeBeat Dance (Maryland, USA); “I took the Breakalign workshop with Nefeli and the Experimental with Tentacle Tribe while at the convention. They helped me learn much more about my body in so many ways, both in terms of conditioning and in creativity. In terms of performances, I really enjoyed Boy Blue (UK) and my Tentacle Tribe family on both nights as well, but the entire convention was such a wonderful and inspiring experience and I am super excited to be back in Charlotte, NC to get to work on our new piece with this newly found inspiration and knowledge!”

DeNeer Sneaker Freak Davis; dancer, creator and graffiti artist (Charlotte NC, USA); “I was most drawn to the graffiti, but the workshop I most enjoyed the most was Spoken Word workshop (US). The way we used our personal words and thoughts to create a variety of dance movements had a great structure and made me think and develop myself. It was also fun. In all the whole experience was phenomenal, and I enjoyed the intermission as much as the stage shows.”

Kloe Dean; dance battler, founder of MyselfUK and emerging choreographer (London); “My favourite part of Breakin’ Convention was Boy Blue. It was a strong and powerful piece with consistency, deep feeling and undeniably effective musicality. I also really enjoyed The Locksmiths. I think it was well put together and also great to watch a style that I feel isn’t represented as regularly as it could be. Tentacle Tribe were amazing. Their partner work and connection was really fluid and refreshing, and Si Rawlinson’s piece in the Lilian Baylis theatre used breaking in an intriguingly unique way to express political issues. Finally I loved the amazing hat tricks and footwork from Soweto Skeleton Movers (South Africa).

 

My own overwhelming impression was mixed. I’ve attended this festival for years and the 2017 vibe was different and difficult to interpret. Jonzi D’s pro-diversity message was both rhythmic and entertainingly on-point, the UK contingents I was able to see did themselves proud, the graffiti and rapping both skilled and thought-provoking and the diversity of artists enthralling.

It’s also the first time in 14 years I’ve noticed passers-by stop, look in and comment favourably, which has to be good. However, the fact that I could differentiate passers-by from the festival-goers is interesting. Maybe it’s a reflection of our current economy, maybe other events (such as Scanners’  outdoor hip hop jam, The Bridge) are diverting peoples’ attentions. Maybe the event is now seen more as evening performances with add-ons rather than an all-day festival or maybe on this, its 14th anniversary, Breakin’ Convention has finally become an accepted part of ‘the establishment’. Whatever the reason, there were no crowds to fight through and that leaves me with a wistful sense of loss.