Breakin’ Convention 2023

Sadlers Wells

20 years, that’s almost my whole life…if you add a couple of years… OK…10 years, who’s counting? Back in triumphant fashion, this hip hop happening has weathered the last few (hard) years with style and sensational energy.

As a confirmed sycophant of the festival, I have seen it on YouTube, with tight restrictions within Sadlers Wells (no distinctive beef patties) with very loud stage cleans between each show, and in a condensed and slightly chaotic single evening. In whatever format it always perseveres.

Little did artistic director and founding member Jonzi D suspect that in 2004 this festival would leap to the heights it has. Jubilant, rhyming, and smiling from ear to ear he traces the history of the event and the linked rise in the appreciation of the wide-ranging genre of hip hop dance.

But enough fangirl-ing (its a habit when this festival is involved) onto the evening in hand! The energy is infectious, and the cathedral-like Sadlers Wells is completely remade: graffiti workshops hiss around the corner in the yard, all the walls are covered in multi-coloured murals and dancing figures, kids run this way and that, and music thumps from the freestyle stage on the circle level. A space reborn. The rules are out the window and we know I love a shake-up of theatrical tradition. Example: Tucking into fried chicken at the interval after a few too many beers, or beef patties when it was all over. This greasy filling food knocks the expected dry bag of nuts out of the park. People sit with their kids on the floor drawing or watch beaming with pride as they join in an impromptu dance-off. It is all life and hope… It’s blooming lovely is what it is…

With an after-party, mini performance in the interval, and hoards of dance enthusiasts of every age is easy to forget the 6 hours of professional wonder flowering before us on the main stage. Due to word limits, and editors’ keen eyes, a whistle-stop tour is in order.

Always playing with scale and range we have solos, pas de deux, and massive group numbers from around the world and around the corner.

Original member back in 2004 and 20-something-strong Boy Blue thunder and thump onto the stage in an almost militaristic show of talent and force. Drill at its finest and most precise. Ghetto Funk Collective another large crew from the Netherlands provides some 70s charm and funk, loafing on stage with all the swagger of the period and a good dose of sex appeal.

MOVER from South Korea highlights the festival’s long-standing relationship with the Korean cultural centre in the UK. This slick group piece has a blend of competitive old-school dance-off in the later part and slick imaginative use of bodies in the first. The human drum kit, crafted out of extended legs and a spotlight is a prime example of how the b-boy’s playfulness is only limited by the human imagination.

The four Barefoot Diva squad physicalise Maya Angelou’s poem Phenomenal Women with a confidence that’s radioactive. They stand, swinging their hips in spotlights, daring us to disagree, and why would we? These are truly phenomenal women.

Threading Theater again from the Netherlands focuses on the subsection of breakdance, Threading. As three performers wind themselves tighter and tighter into patterns they seem unable to get out of… thankfully they do… imagine if they were still there crumpled up into a human rubber band ball in the wings.

Down into the duets, ILL-Abilities. A slow start bursts suddenly into an explosive routine that proves the glorious different abled-ness of the bodies involved. Questioning the idea of disability as a negative in both the dance and world at large. Having done they stride off stage pouring out confidence, rightfully.

Of the solos, the highlight is winner of the BBC Young Dancer 2019 Max Revell, a showstopper. Using various costumes in reverse Revell’s movements are like a human optical illusion as he crafts bearded men and suited strangers from trench coats and a high titled chin. Mind-boggling dance, mixing popping, and locking with mime and stage magic.

Les Twins finish off an evening with four solos, clipped, and full of cheeky comedy and fluffy bravado. Anybody that concludes an evening with a routine to Baby One More Time by Britney Spears is a winner in my book.

With 20 years behind them, you might wonder if the festival will rest on its laurels. But far from it. New York’s legendary twin b-boy’s Keith and Kevin Smith “surprise” Jonzi D with an award from the stage assembly for New York (the dance style’s birthday place) for his work bringing the style to these cold and belligerent shores. A hip hop museum is being built in the Bronx, Breakin Covention has a nationwide tour this month and an academy opening later in the year. Nothing will stop this genre as it rivals ballet for a space on the dance table, make room people Breakin Convention is coming through!