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Dance Review: Breakin’ Convention

“When I say ‘twenty’, you say ‘years’!”
“Twenty!”
“Years!”
“Twenty!”
“Years!”

It’s not exactly what you’d expect to hear echoing through Blackpool’s victorian Grand Theatre, but last Saturday was anything but predictable.

Let’s take a trip back to 20 years ago when hip hop theatre pioneer Jonzi D set out to create a festival that would celebrate the origins and evolution of hip hop culture. Last weekend Breakin’ Convention did just that.

The night was hosted by Jonzi D himself alongside local Breakin’ Convention reps Sam and Aishley – artistic directors of Blackpool’s own House of Wingz. Sam and Aishley are well known on the Blackpool dance scene working tirelessly with their community since 2006 to cultivate the unique local street culture scene in Blackpool.

The evening started with an energetic and smile-rousing live performance of An Eventful Day Busking from homegrown talent Freefly Crew as they fused comedy with breaking, beatboxing and impressive tricks. This was followed by local dancer Ryan Fenton’s jarring mental-health focused exploration into isolation and fears of perception. Crewe’s Dope Male Performance Company and their clever interpretation of Nego True’s spoken word piece Let’s Blame Each Other, exploring the male perspective of blame in relationships.

The first part of the show concluded with MOVER from South Korea performing Merry-Go-Round, a jaw-dropping display of sharp moves, powerful athleticism and skilfully interpretative choreography all accompanied by some exceptional live beatboxing.

Dutch international pole champion Yvonne Smink opened the second part of the show with her world premiere of à contre-courant. An aquatic-themed performance of incredible skill and strength featuring original, hip hop-infused choreography that had everyone mesmerised, feeling that they were watching a body moving through water. Blackpool based House of Wingz upped the tempo with A History, a trip back to the days of Disco charting the evolution of New York house music and showcasing the talent and energy of this local crew. The evening concluded with the Ghetto Funk Collective (Netherlands) bringing the funk with a crowd-rousing performance of It’s on the one. Just oozing personality and swagger.

The Netherlands' Ghetto Funk Collective
After the show (and as the rain started pouring down), we chatted to a couple of audience members to find out what they thought of Breakin’ Convention.

BSC: What did you like the most? 

A: I thought that Dope Male Performance Company’s storytelling was very good. I really enjoy it when there’s unusual music and choreography to words and music without it being too literal.

B: Freefly were lots of good fun. Really good to start off with them, they’re always really entertaining. They used to tour with (local band) Touch the Pearl, who’d be playing something like Mustang Sally in places like Ma Kelly’s, then they’d launch into maybe an old school beat track and Freefly would come out of nowhere and start dancing. So unexpected and brilliant! 

A: Amazing, I love that. They reminded me of, when we went to New York, the street crews that busk with the hat. They say something like, “oh, if you liked it…”. And they’d put all the gags and stuff in, to try and entertain. So it did remind me of going to New York and seeing that.

B: I think Ryan was brave to take on such a heavy theme, you could really feel the anxiety. I really liked the mix of dance styles.

A: As a photographer, I think that his use of that powder (the dust) would be really effective as a photograph. That would have been have been amazing!

B: And MOVER! Breakdancing is evolving into, like, a superhuman thing.

A: Yeah. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like that.

BSC: Their feet did not touch the floor. I was just, like, waiting for his feet touch… nothing. A whirlwind. Just a whirlwind of movement.

A: But all of those layered moves, on top of each other, that was mental. Like human Jenga!

B: And that bit where they lifted her up by her feet, it’s the unexpectedness of that. You didn’t see that coming.

BSC: Yes, people were like “what’s coming next?” Rather than, I’m going to take a picture or I’m going to clap and cheer, it was complete attention ‘what are you going to do next?’

A: I liked their opening. Probably one of the most stand out parts of that performance which felt sort of utilitarian and mechanical. It was all about counterbalance, where you can imagine things tipping over and then something else tips, almost like a sort of very slow domino rally and again. It felt like something you don’t usually expect to see with bodies!

B: Yeah. All of the gravity defying stuff they were doing, all of the multiple layers of people that made it so interesting.

A: The people lasagne!

B: It was like a wall of death thing, where they were walking around an invisible anti-gravity spiral staircase supported by a seemingly never ending chain of people. That was so cool.

BSC: MC Escher would be proud.

A: There’s clearly a lot of gymnastics or strength training in there, it was also great to see a woman playing a key part in the crew, as an equal with her own particular style and unique skill. Definitely great to see a woman breakdancing. More please!

MOVER (South Korea)
Yvonne Smink (Netherlands), photo credit Krabique

BSC: So overall?

B: It’s nice to see all the different flavours as well. It was a really good showcase of all the different genres of hip hop.  From the funk to the lyrical contemporary, and then with the classic kind of retro and old school hip hop moves, but then also kind of pushing it with the inclusion of of the pole dance as well.

A: The pole was just bananas! I was just sat there in disbelief, so beautiful.

B: But, yeah, I think it was a really good showcase of all the different types of hip hop. It wasn’t just a lot of the same. Sometimes when you watch things like Britain’s Got Talent (sorry BGT!) and it’s like, ‘Oh, it’s a dance crew’, then they’re doing all the same moves or the same patterns, or there’ll be a big trick here, or a set piece that looks like the one the other crew was doing. It can get a bit flat. But tonight was really kind of pushing those boundaries and doing things that were unexpected, which I really like.

BSC: Playing around and having fun with the basics and developing from that?

B: Yes. So it was almost kind of saying that these are the basic foundations of hip hop, but then we’re looking at how they can be developed in new ways and using new styles. Kind of flipping it on its head. So, yeah, I think it was a really good representation of all the different genres. It gave a really good flavour of the full range of what hip hop dance can be.

A: Yeah and maybe with some of the younger or newer dancers and artists, it gives them a bit of inspiration to play with other sort of genres or take pieces from different styles of dance as well as music.

B: And then also drawing from history as well to create something new.

A: Don’t forget the music. Using the voice instead of music, so choreographing to the spoken word rather than music. And then also looking at different genres like punk and indie as well as traditional sort of hip hop. Come to think of it there wasn’t really too much in the way of what I would necessarily call traditional hip hop, which was unexpected and cool.

B: It’s nice to see something of this quality and to see that link with our local community as well. To be able to showcase the talent from international artists and also to have that workshop element to it. So our kids are learning from these people and being inspired by that.

BSC: Would you reckon that it’s filling a programming gap in terms of contemporary dance locally?

A: Yeah, I think so.

B: It’s interesting in showcasing it in a new way to maybe potentially make it accessible to more a wider audience, maybe people who would have thought that contemporary dance wasn’t necessarily for them. Being presented in this way is potentially making it a bit more accessible and then to have the participation from the local community – which also obviously brings in a local audience who wouldn’t have necessarily chosen to come to see something like this. So it was really nice to see that support from the audience as well. A lot of people kind of cheering and joining in and being encouraged to do so, which was really nice.

A: Really sort of party vibes, nice atmosphere, very inclusive, very supportive.

B: Very relaxed, very chilled. That kind of step away from it being a formal sort of theatre experience, and again, people thinking, maybe this could be a space that I can be comfortable in and be allowed to be myself and enjoy dance in this way.

A: Yes! It felt more acceptable for people to be sort of cheering and clapping. And I’m pretty sure they would have been happy if people got up and started dancing. Felt like it would have been that kind of vibe.

B: Like the tiny person in the aisle!

BSC: That’s always a good sign, isn’t it? If there’s kids dancing.

B: Yeah. Just getting down to the music and just getting involved and feeling that that’s okay, and being inspired by seeing other people do it.

A: I really enjoyed it, and I think it’s really nice to see that link to our local kids, inspiring them and supporting that growth – homegrown an international talent showing what’s possible.

Breakin’ Convention says that its core values {include profiling the world’s elite hip hop performers, nurturing UK-based talent, exploring the possibilities of hip hop dance theatre, educating on the foundations of hip hop dance and engaging with children and young people.” That’s exactly what we saw, live in our hometown.

Here’s to the next twenty years!

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