Breakin’ Convention. The name of the event kind of gives it away. It’s a convention about Breaking (Breakdancing) and its associated dance forms. This was my first visit to Breakin’ Convention and it was clear that the event’s name is also apt as it is a festival that allows dancers to break away from the usual codes and conventions of both Bboying and theatre.
In it’s ninth year, Breakin’ Convention has attracted acts from all over the world. This year’s headline acts including Bboy Ata, Vagabonds and ILL-Abilities crew. I was half expecting Jonzi D to cast big commercial shows to appeal to the general public, which would probably fail to impress the hardcore bboys out there; but to his credit he managed the balance well.
In most cases, acts were unanimously accessible and crowd-pleasing. “Sébastien Ramirez Clash 66″ piece wowed the crowds, not with crazy power moves or freeze combo’s, but rather with subtlety and musicality which few shows can match. It is not an easy feat to perform articulate, explosive and precise movements with a soundtrack of electronic noise and chaos; yet this duet of Sébastien and Honji manage to make it look so graceful and stylish. It is like nothing you’ve seen before, a masterclass in the understanding of space, body and form. Bboys and dancers in general will learn a lot from watching this show.
On the other side of the spectrum, we saw highly accomplished Hip Hop groups such as Pro Phenomenon from France and Unity from the UK. The latter group really showed what a well-rehearsed show looks like. The choreography was tight and everyone was on-point with their moves. Extra credit has to be given to Unity for doing this with a huge cast of 18 dancers.
For those looking for high-level skills, Vagabonds definitely did not disappoint. Quite simply; a world-class act. Both shows “Rebirth” and “Alien” were non-stop entertainment. The pressure of performing such difficult moves to a snappy soundtrack did not phase the all-round bboys, lockers and poppers in this crew. At one point, Bibo hit munch air flares to a 4 rote 1990-completely on the music. The crowd was left awestruck.
The greatest crowd response however belonged to ILL-Abilities Crew, exiting the stage after both their performances to standing ovations. Founded and managed by Lazy Legz and choreographed by Kujo, their show tells the story of how the five dancers have overcome significant disabilities and become professional bboys. Their motto is “No excuses, No limits”. Through their dancing, you can tell that this is certainly the mentality they have in all they do – training, dancing and living. The inspirational show which features Kujo, Lazy Legz, Redo, Checho, Tommy Guns and DJ Dekoy offered inspiration to everyone. Lazy Legz summed it up by saying “Only our minds disable us“. Look out for our exclusive interview with ILL-Abilities to find out more about the crew.
Whilst many see Breakin’ Convention as a one off event in May, Jonzi D and his team have worked tirelessly throughout the year on initiatives to get talented dancers and choreographers into the main theatre show. One of these schemes is the “Back to the lab” Open Art Surgery, where upcoming dance talent in the UK receives mentoring and support to create their own show. One of these was Natalie James’ (Broken Doll) emotional piece about domestic violence. Contrasting this was Ivan Blackstock’s comedy Hip Hop piece featuring Bboy Shun from Foundationz crew. We also managed to catch up with Ivan Blackstock, a member of the Birdgang company and in this interview he offers advice to bboys on how to succeed in making a career out of dancing. Check back on the website for his insightful interview.
Last of all, we managed to catch up with Bboy Ata after his eponymous show. Ata has been dancing for over 13 years and has garnered a lot of respect from the bboy scene. Having evolved from his raw battling style to one he describes as a “gentlemanly”, his show is an autobiographical dance conveying this journey. Ata is clearly the dancer that bboys came to see and he lived up to expectations, pleasing the crowd with his showcase of bboying finesse.
Previously a cynic of the big festival, after spending a weekend at Breakin’ Convention I can say from a bboy perspective the festival did not disappoint. Where else will the general public and Hip Hop dancers alike get to see the world’s best Lockers and Waackers such as Gemini, alongside other dancers who are really pushing the boundaries through experimentation?
A weekend at Breakin’ Convention will definitely entertain and acts like “Storyboard P” will leave you inspired to get back to the lab with new ideas. We look forward to next year’s line-up at the 10-year anniversary. Props to Jonzi D and the team for delivering the goods once again.
P.S. The British Sign Language (BSL) added extra flavour to the first day of Breakin’ Convention and the BSL rap battle went off!
Words by Will Lau
Photos by Belinda Lawley and Paul Hampartsoumian