Breakin’ Convention is a Sadler’s Wells project established in 2004. Each year the work presented, combined with the audiences, completely transforms the atmosphere of the space. For as long as I have known Jonzi D and his team, they’ve consistently been as passionate about the vision of hip hop theatre as a culture and art form, as they’ve been regarding nurturing UK based talent; presenting projects that educate children and adults in the foundations of hip hop dance all year round.

My first time participating in Breakin’ Convention was 10 years ago, so I’m very excited to share my work for the festival this year. During the 2007 festival, in which I performed and assisted with choreography for Hakeem Onibudo, director of Impact Dance Company, I watched a powerful female solo that triggered a desire to present my own artistic ideas. This was a pivotal moment for me and contributed as a deciding factor in how I wanted to spend the next five years of my life. Developing my craft as an artist, connecting with people from all walks of life and responding to the world in which we live, onstage and off.

It opened my eyes and provided artistic vision on so many different levels. Since then I have worked solidly with many companies in the hip hop, physical theatre, contemporary dance and circus worlds. In 2010, whilst still based in Leicester I applied for Breakin’ Convention’s UK tour and presented my solo at Nottingham Playhouse Theatre. I was invited back for the subsequent London festival in 2011 then moved to London a couple of months afterwards. This working relationship has massively impacted my development as an artist – to have my work accommodated and challenged both physically and mentally. The next 12 months I had the opportunity to receive mentorship and develop on numerous professional development projects with Jonzi D, Jasmin Vardimon, Henri Oguike and Ivan Blackstock.

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In late 2011, I began creating a solo entitled, Unrecognisable to raise awareness about domestic violence, one of our many worldwide issues that doesn’t discriminate against class, race, gender and culture. During my performing arts education, whether it be dance, art or circus, the environment has been predominately white and female. Most of my professional career I have been encouraged and challenged by predominantly strong inspirational black men. Through these individuals, I have seen brilliant examples of how to press on and develop in my response to preconceived ideas when creating work. I would like to see more black men and women stepping out to use their voice setting an example and embracing their identity. It is a beautiful thing to accept yourself and each other. This is something that encourages me as a mother and artist in my pursuit of sharing possibilities with audiences and our younger generation.

This year I will present a brand new piece called, Transfiguration on the main stage of Sadler’s Wells this coming Sunday 30th April. The solo is a collaboration with scenographer Kate Lane. It will be a combination of my experimental dance style and trapeze skills set to an original composition made by My Panda Shall Fly (Suren Seneviratne). From research and development of transformative processes of identity, I attempt to play with scale alongside bridging the gap between air and surfaces using each movement. I specifically want to make physical connections with universal issues exploring everyday conflicts and possible ripple effects. It has been interesting playing with the quality and intention of moving from one area to another in place of just adding tricks to the choreography with no purpose.

Future plans include continuing to explore transformation on a larger scale. I’m interested in using my skills and resources to benefit the lives of others lacking the necessary support to benefit their circumstances. Within this solo I want to show an abstract journey of being hidden then gradually becoming unveiled. Gradually shedding away the layers of what was before and transitioning out of a restrictive heaviness into a sense of peace whilst increasing in grace, power and strength.

“All humans change. Development is our life. Transition, in labour, is the most painful time. Without change, there is no growth.” – Mimi Kennedy

Not everyone has the strength and defiance to keep getting up when knocked down. Every one of us has a value and a purpose. Being aware that we all carry wounds of some degree, I wanted to use this as inspiration to look beyond the physical aspects of universal struggles. If we dwell in the stained shadows too long we will miss out on something more worthwhile.

Article by Natalie James


Natalie James will be performing at the 2017 Breakin’ Convention on Sunday 30 April. Book tickets via the website here.