This weekend was meant to be Breakin’ Convention’s 17th annual festival, where the foyers and auditoria of Sadler’s Wells fill up with break dancers, body poppers and hip-hop dancers. Instead, Sadler’s Wells are streaming some highlights of the 2018 Festival when, improbably, these dancers teamed up with a jazz orchestra. The results are stunning.
Hosted by Jonzi D, a spoken word artist and the founder of Breakin’ Convention, this 70-minute show defies expectations on what hip-hop dancing actually is, and as the performers move to jazz beats rather than rap beats, their spins and flips seem different in this new light. The music is provided by The Jazz re:freshed Sonic Orchestra, which is also celebrating its 15th birthday. Their sound cuts right through Harlem via New Orleans and straight on down to Rio.
First up are The Locksmiths, and dressed in colourful oversized suits, they bring the New York of the 1930s right up-to-date as they jump and twitch to every accent of the music. All of the acts, The Locksmiths are the most successful in synthesising jazz and hip-hop with their energetic and complex routine featuring some hair-raising splits and some tight synchronicity.
However, The Ruggeds take things to the next level in their piece Refreshed where traditional hip-hop moves are displayed with some cheeky comedy. This reviewer’s vocabulary is too limited to describe the breakdancing – the b-boying – of this Dutch crew. They pivot upside down on their hands, or bounce their bodies off the ground with one palm, before they play a hilarious game of Follow-The-Leader around the stage. They are coming to the Peacock Theatre in October, a show not to be missed.
Boy Blue are a force to be recognised with in their piece Karnival 2.0, which features 28 dancers pumping the stage for all its worth. The lights are dark, and the dancers, both men and women, the sweat shining off their torsos like glass, create a spectacle of delight and movement, boiling over with dexterity and power. The stage is crowded with bodies in a way that now seems unimaginable.
There are quieter points, too, such as the duet between singer Ayanna Witter Johnson and dancer Mufasa. Johnson’s song is sultry, and Mufasa’s slinky and expressive moves echo the music’s late-night feel perfectly. Also Tanaya ‘Ice’ Martin interprets Jonzi B’s poem for the youth of today while beat boxer ABH provides the early pulses for The Ruggeds. The 70 minutes scuttle by so quickly that it’s a relief to be able to rewind the film to savour again the audacity of these young performers.
Unlike other filmed events at Sadler’s Wells, Breakin’ Convention seems to have been caught by only two cameras, both not close enough to record the performers’ faces. For the main, we see the stage as if we were in the middle of the stalls, and while, of course, it’s a good view especially for the ensemble pieces, it is a little disappointing that we can’t get nearer, to be more wholly involved in the melee.
Breakin’ Convention will make you want to be a dancer, if you are not already, but it will also awaken an ache for the closeness of other bodies.
Runs here until 8 May 2020