Breakin’ Convention, Sadler’s Wells – review

Published: Monday, May 4, 2015 10:54 AM | Review by: Cecillia Makonyola |
Les Twins (c) Paul Hampartsoumian Les Twins (c) Paul Hampartsoumian

Antoinette Gomis stood stubbornly in minimal dress against a lightless backdrop, her dark skin and defined abs reminding us that the body is a site of both resistance and affirmation.


‘No matter when it is set, art is always about the time in which it was created.’ I couldn’t shake this old unclaimed quote on the Saturday evening showing of Sadler’s Wells’ annual hip hop festival Breakin’ Convention. The contemporaneousness of this year’s show came from its focus on the political issue of the day, the racial tensions exploding in the US, Europe, South Africa and beyond. Hip hop, an art form born of and through the struggles of African-Americans, is of course always political. But as people of colour take to the streets of its birthplace to insist that Black Lives Matter, it was particularly poignant to witness hip hop dancers from the world over lend their support artfully and tacitly.


Jade and Shango from East London gave a charismatic interpretation of a young black couple in sixties America learning of Martin Luther King’s death. With lindy hop lifts and appropriately aged props their performance had the gaiety of a Rogers and Hammerstein production spliced with pulses of genuine grief and fear.


Unity, in their eighth showing at the festival, debuted new material ‘When Boundaries Push Back.’ Developed at the festival’s Back To The Lab workshop, the half dance half spoken word piece was a lyrical and distinctly masculine articulation of brotherhood and struggle.


Barcelona’s Iron Skulls almost stole the show with a breathtaking post-apocalyptic mediation on survival and togetherness. Their performance opened and ended in the audience, the blacked out crowd giving way to intermittent flashes of bright light and grotesque masks. Their unique combination of storytelling, technical authority and gravitas set them apart from more traditional acts like reigning UK B-Boy Champions The Ruggeds from The Netherlands. Original B-Boys The Legendary Twins graced the stage to give a short account of the beginnings of breaking in New York City and how as young men they had tried to defy society’s characterization of them as n****** through dance. At one point the MC, simply cried with pained exasperation “what is going on America?!”


Antoinette Gomis (c) Paul Hampartsoumian Antoinette Gomis (c) Paul Hampartsoumian

The Breakin’ Convention, now in its twelfth year, is showing its age with creative wisdom, technical excellence and continued relevance.


This perhaps sounds quite weighty but there was nothing preachy or heavy handed about the evening. The depth of the subject matter was so expertly balanced with the aspirational and crowd-pleasing exhibitionism we expect from breaking that one could enjoy the spectacle and innovation without considering the subtext at all. A family friendly event there was plenty to keep children entertained off stage including break out areas for freestyling, and a celebration of all things twin in honour of headliners Les Twins. The parade of children on stage that followed could have fallen flat, but it worked well with the unpretentious feel of the event established and admirably sustained by Jonzi D. Breakin’ Convention’s MC slash artistic director slash legend brought an energy and enthusiasm that was hard to resist. His only misstep was occasionally falling back on everyday sexism for cheap laughs. In one particularly unfortunate ‘bit,’ he asked Girls On Point to explain why weave is so important to women while clutching a 16inch bundle of hair extensions. If one could tap into the power of the collective eye roll produced by the black women in the theatre at that moment there would be enough energy to power body cameras for US policemen for the next decade.


After much build up Les Twins (Larry also sporting an MLK t-shirt) finally took to the stage for a thrilling and subversive gender-bending dance battle that showcased their showmanship and magnetism. They even treated the crowd to an exclusive preview of their brand new music. The most affecting performance of the night, for me however, belonged to Antoinette Gomis. Gomis, of the all-female Parisian dance troupe Zamounda, stood stubbornly in minimal dress against a lightless backdrop, her dark skin and defined abs reminding us that the body is a site of both resistance and affirmation. She wrapped and released her arms in what were, by far, the evening’s most elegant contortions as Nina Simone crooned, “she thinks her brown body has no glory.” Then suddenly Gomis bounded across the stage revelling in both the freedom of her expression and the exquisiteness of her form. The result was an arresting and unapologetic insistence that black bodies are beautiful and they do matter.


The Breakin’ Convention, now in its twelfth year, is showing its age with creative wisdom, technical excellence and continued relevance.





Related links

Les Twins - interview
Jonzi D – interview




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