Breakin’ Convention 2024 – review

Sadler’s Wells
Review by: Rosalyn Springer
afridiziak ratings
Published: Wednesday 08 May 2024, 11:30am

Sons-Of-Wind, Breakin' Convention 2024 at Sadler's Wells (© Paul Hampartsoumian
Sons-Of-Wind, Breakin’ Convention 2024 at Sadler’s Wells (© Paul Hampartsoumian

A little birdy told me it was Breakin’ Convention’s 21st anniversary this year, and this weekend we were all invited to celebrate with them. Nine acts took to the stage on Saturday May 4, the day I attended in a sold out show at the home of dance, Sadler’s wells.

I arrived early to enjoy pre- show activities and the air around the theatre was already buzzing. In the training ground a young dancer enthusiastically popped and locked with a professional, beaming and high fiving his dad when he came off the floor. In The Graff Zone brows were furrowed as young artists huddled over their graffiti art, creating. This was a family affair, people of all ages and backgrounds coming together to enjoy hip hop culture.

By the time the main show rolled around I was thoroughly warmed up. I wouldn’t say I’m ‘into’ Hip Hop, but you didn’t have to be to enjoy this show. The warmth of the host and show’s artistic director Jonzi D and BSL interpreter Jacqui Beckford, bopping in sync alongside one another was infectious.

Jinjo, Breakin' Convention 2024 at Sadler's Wells (© Paul Hampartsoumian
Jinjo, Breakin’ Convention 2024 at Sadler’s Wells (© Paul Hampartsoumian

We started strong with ShaolinOrShao’s  MP3+Movement gave us dynamism, simply staged, like battles, a 12 strong ensemble that was as powerful dancing together as they were in the solos. When Create4 were illuminated I didn’t know what to expect. Their piece The Heriditary, began with one dancer seated on a chair, the other on a bed, each bathed in a different colour light creating a separation between the two.

A meditation on toxic masculinity passed down generationally, I felt the push and pull of a relationship, a dialogue without words, an internal battle even with their fluid contemporary dance movements interspersed with jerking head movements, pacing. For the most part mirroring one another from each side- separated, call and response, eventually coming together, in embracing movements. Something was being battled here, something taught, something rejected, and it was powerfully told and beautifully danced.  Duets really held their own that night, Ekleido’s piece Splice explored the connectivity between bodies in striking silver and black costumes.

Moving like synchronised swimmers one moment and like contortionists the next, slickly intertwining with one another. Lighting was used to great effect here too, with spotlights descending from above to illuminate them up close, accentuating the movements, shadows and light of costume and movement combined. I wouldn’t have expected to see this in a hip hop show, but that was the beauty of this showcase – eclectic, describes it perfectly.

Traplord, Breakin' Convention 2024 at Sadler's Wells (© Paul Hampartsoumian
Traplord, Breakin’ Convention 2024 at Sadler’s Wells (© Paul Hampartsoumian

GSB’s GSB brought us more battles and one powerfully staged section that called to mind What’s the Time Mr Wolf, a leaders striking out with fellow dancers advancing behind, and solos powerfully embodying all the power, dynamism of krumping.  Sons of Wind’s- Bounce Init gave us a little krump vibe too, but something very different from what came before it. Starting in near darkness you could just make out the dancers. The hip hop music was hypnotic, and as each dancer emerged, I felt like I was in the party amongst the throng of people.

My shoulders bopped and I squinted to see what was emerging. 10 dancers, coming together doing their thing, calling each other on. An invitation to dance, to revel. The synchronised movements of the group dancing together was full of energy, attitude, freedom, feeing almost tribal in energy and in the boldness of the movements.

The solos, energetic bolstered by pulsating lights here and there giving us windows into this secret space. At one point dancing facing the spotlight at the side of the stage, to the left, which was particularly striking, full of defiance as if to say, “and what?” , in a piece that was overall meditative, pulsating, a little long but powerful, nonetheless.

Jamal Sterrett’s High Spectra brought us Bruk Up, blending dancehall and hip hop, he moved balletically around the floor with loose bouncy leg move movements, think the dance “Butterfly” in your school classroom in the 90s, with his upper body giving us shoulder rolls and ballet, danced to an ambient soundtrack.

I had to do another swift rethink of all I thought I knew about hip hop dancing. The same goes for Traplord questioning masculinity, the stereotyping of black man in the west, using both staging and costume to do so. Mixing balletic movements with hip hop, one dancer in urban gear coupled with a bright pink tutu, I initially thought there was mockery here but no. This was social commentary.

The dozen strong ensemble danced boldly together holding pretend pistols. This challenged me. Made me frown, and then pause for thought for this fit society’s iconography of the black male whether we like it or not. The spoken words “Ashes to ashes dust” felt apt here, the mix  of styles feeling fresh and challenging, the frustration, this feeling of being misunderstood came though to me powerfully on the faces of some of these, challengers, in their mini battles.

From challenging ideas of masculinity to the same of womanhood, Femme Fatale’s Unbounded entered suited with suitcases. They could easily have been another set of migrants, our grandfathers arriving at Tilbury Docks during the Windrush era. As the familiar sounds of It’s a Man’s World by James Brown rang out, suit jackets were taken off and dancers and audience alike revelled in street dance, with touches of lyrical jazz, popping and locking and swing dance.

Femme-Fatale, Breakin' Convention 2024 at Sadler's Wells (© Paul Hampartsoumian
Femme-Fatale, Breakin’ Convention 2024 at Sadler’s Wells (© Paul Hampartsoumian

Lighting was a powerful storytelling vice here, illuminating the journey of these three women migrating to the USA to find a better life, amplified by beautiful, synchronised movements. In one part in particular, walking across the stage the dancers entering from different angles, simulating with slow deliberate movements, the passing of time, backwards and forwards, made me think of the migrant experience for many, sometimes one step forward and four steps back before settling, before reaching success, whatever that looks like. The serious messages of empowerment, feminism, striving, and playfulness- there was a funny encore or two – made this one of the most powerful and accessible acts for me.

Jinjo Crew brought us high energy at the end of the night, with that familiar b-boy style that encapsulated hip hop dance for me growing up. Here you got your breakdancing, and there was some shirt-ography here (yes, I made that term up) which was novel and crowd pleasing. Think, expertly linking together shirts through the moves and using said shirts to make a rope that you then skip over. Not as easy as it sounds. You could see why this slick outfit are multi award winners.

I said when I started, I’m not “into” hip hop but I think I may need to revise that statement. It was an enjoyable night. Breakin’ Convention reminds us of the universal appeal of dance, and the enduring and evolving quality of hip hop. Bringing us fresh narratives told in new and exciting ways.

Their striving to keep the culture alive through the next generation is powerful too so if you know a 16–19-year-old who wants to join that tradition, their academy would be a great place to start.

Need to know: Breakin’ Convention took place from 3-6 May 2024. Find out more.

Check out Breakin’ Convention’s official website