By Sam Bleazard
The sun is shining, the sky is blue, and on Rosebery Avenue in EC1R a queue of b-boys and b-girls has formed ahead of time, and is snaking around the block.
Hard to believe this is the fifteenth anniversary year of the Breakin’ Convention in Islington, North London, an event I’ve been meaning to go to on at least three to four previous occasions. It turns out that one of the hottest early May Bank holiday weekends is going to be mark the first visit, both for myself and for the group of family and friends I’m with.
Up on level 1 the kids in attendance go through their paces in The Training Ground, with dancers Yami and Gavin (all in front of a 50ft high b-girl wall), while downstairs those with enough swag and the right moves show what they’ve got at the freestyle funk forum. The bragging rights, good humour and acrobatics of these improvised sessions go on throughout the afternoon and well into the evening.
Before we take it to the stage we’re treated to the vocal antics and throat reverberations of Beatfox the Beatbox. He’s a favourite of many, with more than one teenager’s mouth hanging open as he moves through a series of percussive gears. In the meantime the crunch of More Bounce to the Ounce reverberates through the walls of Sadlers Wells, as the ground floor lobby area fills with those expectantly waiting for a box of jerk chicken or a patty.
The show itself is hosted by Jonzi D who tells the crowd that this is the place to experience real hip hop, not in the media and not in throw away pop music videos. It’s hard to argue with that assessment when the masked BirdGang take to the stage to kick off the main show. The backdrop is large and stark but these anonymous fluid figures move with military precision, and as with all of the diverse acts that follow, they have pointed and poignant stories to tell.
Every performance features exceptional and articulate movement, some of it stop-start and stylish (U.M.A.), some of it breathtaking (Amala Dianor), but all of it atmospheric. Along with some genuinely innovative use of music – from the surprising Classical mash-up during Room 2 Manoeuvre’s set, to stuttering vinyl pops, thumping juddering heartbeats and bass loops – it’s always effective, and often mesmeric. This year’s BC has male duos, all female ensembles (Elsabet Yonas’ choreography is a highlight), a mixed male-female trio from France, but also crews from Slovenia in Eastern Europe and Scotland, who all represent hip hop in its varied colours and forms. The venue is clearly a Mecca for those who love dance and the crowd absorbs every physical moment, every sneaker squeak, statuesque pose and body shape along the way.
Unfortunately I have to go before the 15 piece Jazz re:freshed Sonic Orchestra hit the stage – more’s the pity as I catch some spectacular clips of a dance troupe on Instagram riding the bus to the station. Mind you it only makes me want to visit next year all the more.
Host Jonzi D summed it up best when he reflected on all of the artists who took part – from different nations, age groups and across the cultural spectrum – it was for others to be divided he said, (with a tedious focus on Brexit and narrow minded short term politics) because none of that mattered here.
Events like this are what make London special, so we should appreciate them more while we have them. This is effectively a five and a half hour show for all age groups, at a fraction of the price you’d pay for a big musical in the city’s West End. There’s clearly nothing broken about Breakin’ – so don’t try to fix it.