Breakin’ Convention

Breakin’ America: bringing hip hop dance theatre to the US

Breakin’ Convention brought its trademark hip hop dance theatre spectacular stateside in October with a successful tour to New York and North Carolina.  The line-up presented by the renowned Sadler’s Wells festival included breakdance crew The Ruggeds, dancer and choreographer Antoinette Gomis, hip hop duo Compagnie Phorm and dance company BirdGang.

The first stop was Blumenthal Performing Arts in Charlotte, North Carolina. The arts centre embraced the project wholeheartedly, working closely with the Breakin’ Convention team and truly making the festival their own.

“Breakin’ Convention has been this unifying event in the community that brought together people from all walks of life,” said Tom Gabbard, President of Blumenthal Performing Arts. “That’s probably always an important thing, but at this unique moment in time, in our country, I think those kind of unifying activities are more important than ever.”

Breakin’ Convention will return to Charlotte for the next two years, building of this success and acting as catalyst for the continued development of hip hop theatre in the region.

The team then went to Harlem’s Apollo Theater in New York – where it had toured for the first time in June 2013 to great acclaim. It was a second opportunity for Breakin’ Convention to take hip hop theatre to the birthplace of hip hop and promote the development of the art form in the US. The atmosphere in the Apollo Theater was electric and the festival was not only loved by the audience, but also an emotional experience for the dance artists, who felt humbled by the chance to follow in the footsteps of so much African-American jazz, soul, funk and hip hop talent by performing on stage.

In his review of the event in The New York Times, Alastair Macaulay wrote: “It’s to be hoped that Breakin’ Convention — first and last seen here two years ago — becomes as established in New York as it is in London.”

 

Image: Jonzi D and Boris ‘Bluz’ Rogers host Breakin’ Convention at the Levine Center for the Arts’ Knight Theater in Charlotte, North Carolina. Photo: Daniel Coston

Breakin’ Convention and ZooNation awarded £1m to tour the UK

Sadler’s Wells’ international festival of hip hop dance theatre Breakin’ Convention and ZooNation Dance Company, one of Sadler’s Wells’ resident companies, have together been awarded over £1 million in funding by the Arts Council.

They are among 13 organisations who will receive a total of over £4.8 million from Arts Council England as part of its Strategic Touring Programme, enabling them to tour throughout the UK over the next two years. The funding shows a substantial investment in developing audiences for hip hop dance.

Alistair Spalding, Sadler’s Wells’ Chief Executive and Artistic Director, said:“There is no underestimating the growth hip hop as a dance style has been experiencing in recent years, exploding from the streets onto the stage, but also on TV and through fashion and advertising. Its enormous success stems from its ‘each one teach one’ approach to knowledge-sharing and its ability to continuously evolve and develop a highly original vocabulary – a language that is dynamic and current, and speaks to ever increasing numbers of young people.

In the last 12 years, Breakin’ Convention has established itself as a world leader in hip hop dance theatre through its annual international festival at Sadler’ Wells. ZooNation has also been championing the development of hip hop through productions characterised by inventive and captivating storytelling, such as Into the Hoods and Some Like It Hip Hop.”

He continued: “It is great news that the Arts Council has chosen to invest in these projects through their Strategic Touring Fund, which will enable Breakin’ Convention and ZooNation to tour their high-quality work to a number of venues across the UK over the next two years, giving audiences outside London the opportunity to experience hip hop dance theatre, as well as to hopefully discover the next generation of hip hop artists.”

Welcoming the grant, Sadler’s Wells’ Associate Artist and Breakin’ Convention’s Artistic Director Jonzi D said: “This is excellent news for the sector. It allows Breakin’ Convention to support the professional development of hip hop dance theatre even further, providing skills, knowledge and platforms for the plethora of emerging dance crews following in the footsteps of ZooNation, Boy Blue, Southpaw and Birdgang. The lyrical dexterity of UK emcees will now have a space to develop theatrical devices within our Moving Rap workshop strand. Arts Council England has shown commitment to the creative phenomenon that is Hip Hop culture, at a time when peace, love, unity, and fun is much needed.”

Breakin’ Convention has been awarded £562,783 for a two-year project that will see the festival tour throughout May 2016 and May 2017, programming over 400 local artists per tour to perform alongside international artists. The touring activity will be complemented by a professional development programme, pairing up artists and future hip hop programmers. There will be a new spoken word professional development strand entitled Moving Rap and a continuation of the film-makers mentorship programme.

Launched by Sadler’s Wells in 2004 and hosted and curated by Jonzi D, Breakin’ Convention features performances from diverse UK and international companies each year. The festival also sees Sadler’s Wells’ foyer transformed into a performance space with live DJs, freestyle dance jams, graffiti exhibitions and workshops from top international artists.

ZooNation Dance Company has been awarded £499,471 to present a large-scale tour of Into the Hoods: Remixed, a newly revamped version of the award-winning production, throughout the UK from Spring 2016. Performances of the work at regional venues will build on the show’s track record of bringing more diverse and younger audiences into theatres, something that it successfully achieved during previous runs at Sadler’s Wells, the Edinburgh Fringe, Southbank Centre and in the West End between 2006 and 2010.

Into the Hoods became both the first ever hip hop dance show in the West End and the longest running dance show in the West End’s history, with a five month run at the Novello Theatre. The cast of Into the Hoods won the 2009 What’s On Stage Theatregoers’ Choice Award for Best Ensemble Performance. Under the direction of Sadler’s Wells’ Associate Artist Kate Prince, the much-loved show has been updated for 2015 with new choreography, a remixed soundtrack and new designs. Its first performances will take place at The Peacock from 23 October to 14 November, before the show embarks on national tour in spring 2016.

Into the Hoods: Remixed will act as the catalyst to deliver an audience development project, ZooResidence, across England, supporting and encouraging venues and their local partners to build audiences for hip hop dance theatre in new ways. It will include a series of projects for reaching thousands of young people, culminating in the creation of a piece to be performed as a pre-show curtain raiser for the production at each of the five partner venues.

In the production, ZooNation’s trademark narrative hip hop theatre style is used to tell the story of two children who get lost in the ‘hood’ and the surprising encounters and discoveries they make along their way, in what is a witty and humorous contemporary fairytale.

Kate Prince, Artistic Director of ZooNation Dance Company, said: “I think it is a really exciting and bold move for the Arts Council to make such a significant investment in developing audiences for hip hop dance theatre through these two major projects. The chance to work with venues more closely will really release the potential of our work to reach more people and connect new audiences to regional theatres”. 

She continued: “This investment of over £1 million pounds between ourselves and Breakin’ Convention also makes a statement about hip hop dance and its cultural importance and artistic currency. We are over the moon that the Arts Council is supporting us to take our work around the UK and to be part of developing hip hop dance nationwide.” 

Joyce Wilson, Area Director, London, Arts Council England, said: “We are delighted to be able to support Breakin’ Convention and ZooNation Dance Company through our Strategic touring programme; it is a clear illustration of the breadth and quality of work that we value and support. These tours will not only showcase some of the best hip hop dance theatre in the world, but also support the professional development of emerging hip hop dance talent and leaders across England.”

 

Image: Wanted Posse performing at Breakin’ Convention in 2014. Photo: Belinda Lawley