An annual fixture at Sadler’s Wells since 2004, Breakin’ Convention …
… is a celebration of the origins and evolution of international hip hop culture, showcasing the most respected, innovative, and inspirational artists working today. This year’s festival featured three live performances – A.I.M. Collective’s Suspended, O’Driscoll Collective’s One % and a performance of Untethered 3.0 by the festival’s annual fixture, Boy Blue – alongside two short films – Botis Seva’s Can’t Kill Us All and Jonzi D and Jessica Care Moore’s Our Bodies Back.
In short, Social DisDancing was a phenomenal showcase of the best in British hip hop dance.
The night started with a performance of three routines by A.I.M. (Artistry. In. Movement) Collective, a London-based female popping collective, established in 2018 by Shawn Aimey, who also choreographs the group’s routines. There seemed to be a narrative arc throughout the routines reflecting on the experience of lockdown. In the first routine, the dancers were disconnected, each confined by white squares projected by the stage lights: while solo dancers struggled to lift themselves from the ground, a dancer struggled to move autonomously from her partner. The second routine showcased the collective’s popping skills, as the group created shapes with immense precision and synchronicity. This routine suggested a regaining of connectivity with other bodies and of agency over one’s own body. The final routine, set to an infectiously joyful disco track, seemed to optimistically look to a future beyond lockdown – my main thought watching this routine was that I can’t wait to go clubbing again!
The second – and my personal favourite – performance of the night came from O’Driscoll Collective. Ostensibly, One % was a duet between Jamaal O’Driscoll and Marius Mates; however, as the narrative of the performance unfolded, it became clear it was exploring an interior conflict, a process of facing what is holding you back and finally being liberated. O’Driscoll Collective is a b-boy dance company – a dance genre I know best from watching the UK B-Boy championships on Sunday mornings. But this was b-boying like I’d never seen it before. O’Driscoll and Mates performed astounding acrobatic sequences resembling Capoeira moves, with such softness and sensitivity it was like watching contemporary dance. I was also extremely impressed by their ability to stay in synch, given the accompanying music seemed void of any obvious beats; instead, it was clear that these dancers were extremely aware of and in tune with each other’s bodies – a feat that I felt honoured to witness as a live performance.
Boy Blue’s performance started really strong – the slick lighting changes between a single central light to side-lighting, co-ordinated with changes in music and dance genre immediately grabbed my intention – but, for me personally, the performance seemed to dissipate in the originality this group is so acclaimed for as the performance progressed. Overall, however, the performance was a powerful tribute to the Black Lives Matter movement, featuring the black power salute and focusing on the sound of the dancers exhaling and inhaling as they performed tension-filled krumping sequences.
A special shout-out should also go to Can’t Kill Us All (currently available to watch via BBC iPlayer as part of BBC Arts’ Culture in Quarantine series ) and Our Bodies Back – both powerful explorations of the way in which 2020 has dislocated black people from their bodies and utilising dance as a way to reclaim agency.
Another shout-out needs to go to Jonzi D, the founder and Artistic Director of Breakin’ Convention, and the insanely energetic and charismatic host of the evening. And a final shout-out needs to go to those people backstage who cleaned the stage between each performance – you kept the evening running slickly and smoothly, and ensured it was the astounding success it turned out to be.
Altogether Breakin’ Convention: Social DisDancing was a slick and successful celebration of hip hop dance, and, at its best, showcased highly original choreography that pushed the boundaries of what different genres of hip hop dance could be. I can’t wait to see the festival return to Sadler’s Wells next year – hopefully back to the scale and audience-size the festival is more used to attracting.
Find out more about the Breakin’ Convention here.