Jonzi D – emcee, dancer, artist, poet and director – as always kicks off the evening with some apt words: “The fabric of society is torn, too much tension, time for new ideas to be born.” Breakin’ Convention and we’re off again!
No matter what is thrown at the original hip-hop festival, it adapts. From restrictive lockdown rules that forced the whole event into a digital incarnation last year, to current lighter rules that require constant stage cleaning between acts.
What does Breakin’ Convention do? Creates the Next Day Delivery initiative where emcees and choreographers create a show in 24 hours with the stimulus “underlying wealth condition”. This collaboration is shown in between acts on a descending screen – inspired!
But enough praise, let’s get into the meaty centre of the beef patties – sadly not served this year in the foyer due to Covid’s ongoing snack-ruining effects.
The evening is kicked off by W.A.R. Nathaniel Williams’s choreography is snappy, young, and energetic. We Ain’t Regular is a premiere for the company. Although the 14-person performance is high swagger and energy, the actualisation is a little sloppy, with some spacing mistakes and one dancer flipping off the stage (thankfully sustaining nothing but injured pride).
The Screen descends and Berkavitch and Si Rawlinson’s film begins. Set completely on zoom and video calls, the clever jokes about working from home are contrasted with a rap around the saying ‘Eat the rich’. Painfully poignant in our brave new world of digital inequality.
Antonio Bukhar is up next, choreographer and solo performer and a master of the krump style, along with some athletic breakdance. Inventive use of a box of light brings new levels to this piece, heightening Bukhar’s confidence.
Screen down again and Sun Kim’s and Surid’s film (Gas) Lighting flickers into life. Stylish, domestic and with a heavy focus on mental health, this piece is a delicate blend of simple (yet effective) choreography, yellowish light, and spoken word.
AWA give a spirited performance choreographed by Jonathan Baron. Called Blindfolded, the dancers are shockingly – you’ve guessed it – blindfolded. The group work is impressive (keeping formation without visibility is no easy task) and the underlying message is heartwarming.
Screen down, now for wordsmith Ken Master and choreographer Rob Anderson’s surreal film with a dancing alien created by a bedsheet and Master’s bouncing 90s-style rap. Strange, silly, yet somehow serious, this is a highlight of the Next Day Delivery project.
Another hit is by brothers Anthony and Kel Matsena with their piece Too Much, Too Little. A street-based film, in the dark and bustling alleyways of our fair city. Personal, wild, both joyful and disconcerting.
As the screen flies up, we are treated to Gemma Hoddy Presents… Betty’s Blues. Boy Blue are a regular at Breakin’ Convention, and this year Gemma Hoddy (a veteran of the company) has a crack at filling the spot. Four young women, dressed in various alluring outfits, play with archetypes of the sexy female. A memorable line is ‘I’m not just my ass’. Hoddy and Abdessamad Hammadou’s choreography has musical theatre influences, blending that with a jazzy soundtrack and popping. It’s a clever reinvention of space and a humorous approach to sensuality and femininity.
Although the interval is a slightly sad affair (drinks and then straight back to our seats), we are entertained with various films throughout. However, it feels a shame to miss this hard work if you need the loo or a big old gin and tonic (not naming any names). We Want Our Bodies Back is played again and astounds as much as it did the first time I witnessed it at last year’s festival. Jessica Care Moore’s poem is manifested by three dancers in three different locations. Created in lockdown with the help of Jonzi D and Sadler’s Wells, this eulogy to the killed, oppressed, and abused Black women of history is epic in its anger and breath.
Michael ‘Bagsy’ Oladele starts the second act, with his piece Surrender. This piece’s imaginative use of live drumming, and a shining purple blanket to reinvent the male form is refreshingly different.
Spoken Movement put on the next physical piece and one of the most emotional, titled Family Honour. So simple, just Kwame Asafo-Adjei and Catrina Nisbet sat at a table under a spotlight, having the sort of argument families always have (just through dance). Exploring the cultural taboos in Ghanaian culture, the piece resonates across societies and coffee tables.
Finally, Patience J burst onto the stage. The uplifting and energetic exploration of various African dance forms is all colourful costumes and amazing physical abilities. The 25 dancers are filled with joy as their bodies cavort across the space showing so much life and passion.
As always, the festival astounds and delights everyone. I gush and gabble because of the festival’s ongoing dedication to youth, talent, and giving the often-ignored a voice. As we struggle out of this crisis, I trust the festival will go from strength to strength and keep doing what it does best – smashing conventions.
Breakin’ Convention ran from 1-4 July at Sadler’s Wells Theatre.