Sadler’s Wells Breakin’ Convention is set to deliver a three-year national programme to strengthen the hip hop sector thanks to a grant from Arts Council England.
Sadler’s Wells has been awarded £630,660 as part of the Arts Council’s National Lottery Project Grants funding programme. Using this funding, our Breakin’ Convention team will continue to build on the learnings and legacy of 16 years of successful hip hop theatre development with an ambitious new programme, Breakin’ Out.
Breakin’ Out will encompass three distinct and connected strands: Grass Routes partnerships, artist development and performance.
Grass Routes partnerships
This will see a new area of engagement for Breakin’ Convention. The programme will reinforce the national hip hop network by fostering relationships between hip hop artists and cultural institutions. Joining forces with six national practitioners – two each year – Breakin’ Out will deliver high-quality training at a local level, including youth projects, masterclasses and teacher training, as well as providing mentorship in organisational development. The first year partners will be with Dance4All in Bournemouth and Bad Taste Cru in Gateshead.
With no formalised training currently existing for hip hop artists in the UK, Breakin’ Out will provide a variety of progression routes at different points in their artistic journeys, giving more people access to hip hop at entry level and forging pathways into the sector. Breakin’ Convention will deliver its successful Open Art Surgery professional development project around the country, offering participants the opportunity to learn under different mentors and perform locally and nationally. Artists will also be offered bespoke ‘Higher Learning’ training days, focused on theatre practice.
Nurturing the development of artists represents an integral part of the programme in the lead up to the opening of the UK’s first hip hop theatre academy, part of Sadler’s Wells’ additional, mid-scale venue to open in east London in 2022. The new theatre will be part of new cultural and education district East Bank, in Stratford’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
Breakin’ Out will reach out to wide and diverse audiences through two large-scale Breakin’ Convention national tours, engaging over 1000 UK artists and featuring 34 national performances. The festival will tour to cities including Norwich, Blackpool, Sheffield, Doncaster, Canterbury, Brighton, Plymouth, Poole and Birmingham in spring 2020 and 2022.
Alistair Spalding, Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Sadler’s
Wells, said: “We’re absolutely delighted
that, through the Arts Council’s support, over the next three years the
programme will engage over a thousand artists and large audiences across the
country, strengthening the UK infrastructure for hip hop and widening its
Jonzi D, Sadler’s Wells’ Associate Artist and artistic director of Breakin’ Convention, commented: “Breakin’ Convention has been a catalyst in the exposure and development of hip hop in the theatre. A hunger from artists and audiences has been created! We have a responsibility to continue supporting hip hop culture and this funding will enable us to strengthen the sector, and to prepare for the opening of Sadler’s Wells’ hip hop theatre academy in 2022.”
Breakin’ Convention Presents
After introducing audiences to the work of artist Pierre Rigale by presenting his work Scandale in 2018, Breakin’ Convention Presents returns with 1mm Au Dessus Du Sol (1mm above the floor), a collaboration between French choreographers Yaman Okur and Sébastien Lefrançois.
Curated by Sadler’s Wells’ Associate Artist Jonzi D, the initiative provides a platform for the finest hip hop theatre makers to showcase a full-length work on our stage, as well as welcoming creations by contemporary choreographers working with street dance forms. Breakin’ Convention Presents: Yaman Okur and Jean-Philippe Collard-Neven’s 1mm Au Dessus Du Sol is at Sadler’s Wells’ Lilian Baylis Studio on 27 and 28 September 2019.
Breakin’ Convention is the UK’s biggest festival of hip hop dance theatre. World-renowned for representing the origins and evolution of hip hop culture from around the world, it is one of the most prestigious platforms for dance theatre globally. True to form, this year’s festival at Sadler’s Wells promises a lineup of exceptional dance talent from the UK and beyond, with international companies hailing from around the globe.
We speak to Michelle, Head of Breakin’ Convention, about the festival’s genesis, its evolution and what audiences can expect from its 16th year.
What is the meaning behind Breakin’ Convention?
The name is something a lot of people get confused with, because hearing it they think of a breaking competition or that you’ll just see breaking performances. The name Breakin’ Convention actually comes from the aim to break convention – of what people think hip hop culture is and of what you’re used to seeing in the theatre. It’s breaking conceptions about the conventional way you see hip hop – at a convention (laughs).
How would you describe the Breakin’ Convention experience?
The festival encompasses all of the elements of hip hop. We commission artists to create graffiti on the walls of Sadler’s Wells. You have DJs, and not only that but the original DMC champions like Cutmaster Swift, DJ Billy Bizznizz, DJ 279 – some of the biggest names when we think of London hip hop culture. We have cyphers in the foyer, rap and freestylers in our front-of-house spaces, we even have a special menu for the occasion – lots of jerk chicken, soul food and West Indian cuisine.
You get to see the best of the UK and the international hip hop scene, so it’s everyone coming together. We break down the fourth wall; the artists come into the foyer and mingle with everyone. It’s the true hip hop experience.
It’s also open for all. As much as the idea behind the festival was to bring in hip hop audiences and let them know that theatre is for them, it makes people that wouldn’t usually be into hip hop see that hip hop is for them too. There are no barriers. It makes everyone feel welcome and comfortable.
You’ve worked your way up from festival volunteer to projects coordinator, to finally heading the Breakin’ Convention team. What are some of the personal highlights of your career?
When we started touring internationally in 2013 and brought the festival to the Harlem Apollo – that was a major highlight! There have been quite a few. I’d say the global effect of our work, but also the development of the UK hip hop scene and of our artists, especially in theatre.
The festival is one thing, without it we probably wouldn’t have been able to create the platforms for professional development that we now have, and to develop the kind of work we’re now developing within hip hop in the UK and internationally. I think over the years it’s been seeing the development of the scene in the UK and how it’s grown, and how a lot of these artists are now on the same level as the international ones, which wasn’t the case when we first started.
What is it like to run the festival?
I’ve been here since the very beginning. I volunteered for the first festival back in 2004 and knew Jonzi [Breakin Convention’s Artistic Director] from way before, since we were in our teens. I grew up in the 80s when hip hop first got big in the UK, and it’s the same feeling now as it was then – the feeling of wanting to be part of it all. I remember walking in the building on the Tuesday after the festival, and almost feeling like I’ve come off a high!
As Mufasa [French hip hop dancer] said last year after her debut performance at the festival, ‘you just feel love’. You’re in the building and that’s what you feel, from the Wednesday when you see the graffiti being put up on the walls, to the next day when the companies start coming in for their tech runs. It feels like a family within our team, but also within the wider context of hip hop.
How do you keep Breakin’ Convention feeling fresh and exciting from year to year?
It’s different every single year. There’s a blueprint of course, but with every single year we’re constantly thinking: ‘How can we top that?’ For our 10th anniversary in 2013, we commissioned 10 UK artists: the whole night was dedicated to just UK artists on the main stage. Last year, we had a 15-piece orchestra as part of a new piece marking our 15th anniversary. We are already looking at how to top that for our 20th.
We try and make sure there’s something for everyone. We look at the programme every year and ask ‘Have we got something for the older generation? What’s something that’s a little more innovative? Are we representing enough females? Are we representing rawness? Are we representing more of the theatrical, the artistic?’ We try and do things organically, so that we’re not dictating what the scene has to have – it’s more a case of what is needed and what is wanted.
What in your opinion is needed in the scene? How has Breakin’ Convention facilitated that?
Hip hop artists don’t have the same kind of opportunities as ballet and contemporary dancers – there are no hip hop conservatoires. You can’t go to a school where you can learn and study hip hop in that sense. So doing things like our artist development programmes Open Art Surgery and Back to the Lab means that artists are not only able to develop their craft, but they’re also learning how to direct their pieces, they’re looking at lighting -all of those things they don’t usually have the privilege of doing.
We need to develop our artists to be on the same level playing field, and so the professional development side of Breakin’ Convention has really started to grow. It’s nice that within Sadler’s Wells on the whole, we’re working with a lot more hip hop artists. It’s a real pleasure to work with the artists we work with. Professional development and education are the things we’re really pushing now. Looking towards the hip hop theatre academy that Sadler’s Wells will establish as part of our new venue in east London in 2022, it’s definitely about incorporating those things.
Something that Jonzi always says is that we’re at an advantage, in that even though hip hop has been going for 40 odd years now, we still have living legends. In 2008, we started doing training with the legends of hip hop under what we called the Pioneers project. The fact that we can invite people down to a workshop with Popin’ Pete [one of the originators of the “popping” dance style and member of the Electric Boogaloos], for instance, is something that you can’t always do in other, more classical dance styles.
What does Breakin’ Convention have in store for our audiences this year? What can we expect?
The best from around the world and around the corner – just like our slogan says! On the international front, everyone we have apart from B-Boy Junior [world-renowned Congolese break dancer] is quite new to the Breakin’ Convention stage. We’ve got Jinjo, a crew from South Korea who are B-boy champions, and France’s Geometrie Variable. We’ve got someone like Logistx, a B-Girl from California who is 16, so very much the new generation.
And then even on the UK front, we’ve got an influx of new companies on the stage like The Archetype and Cocojam. Boy Blue is one of the regulars, having performed at the festival almost every year. We have some familiar faces performing in a new capacity at Breakin’ Convention such as Fiya House, a collective consisting of founders Brooke Milliner and Dickson Mbi. It’s all very fresh and really exciting.
If you could choose a word that captures the essence of the festival, what would it be?
Sensory. There’s just something about the senses – all of them are aroused. There’s music, there’s the smell of different foods, there’s the energy of the people coming in. The building just comes alive. I always tell people that no matter how much you can describe it or watch a Breakin’ Convention video, you have to be there to experience it yourself. When you come to the festival, how you then experience it, and sit in it… it’s different, you know? It’s a sensory experience.
Breakin’ Convention will take place at Sadler’s Wells on Saturday 4th and Sunday 5th May 2019. Tickets are available here.
Breakin’ Convention returned to Denver this month with a festival that celebrated hip-hop culture and showcased both world-class, international acts and local street dance companies.
The festival took over the Denver Center for the Performing Arts (DCPA) for the second consecutive year on 2-4 November, in conjunction with #DenverArtsWeek. Around 5,000 people enjoyed performances and free activities over the weekend. The lineup featured Dutch b-boy crew The Ruggeds, UK’s BirdGang Dance Company with Vice, a piece on addiction, French dancer Antoinette Gomis, whose solo honoured the beauty of black culture, a comic duet by Sample Culture (also from The Netherlands), and Los Angeles-based popping trio Femme Fatale. All received standing ovations from the crowd.
The Ruggeds in Adrenaline The Show. Image: John Moore
Femme Fatale performing at DCPA. Image: John Moore
The Bboy Factory at DCPA. Image: John Moore
Antoinette Gomis in IMAGES. Image: John Moore
Sadler’s Wells’ Associate Artist and Breakin’ Convention’s Artistic Director Jonzi D curated and hosted the show, stressing the importance of creating an organic environment for hip-hop culture to flourish, a space where both local and international acts come together. Sharing his vision, General Manager of the DCPA’s Broadway division Alicia Bruce recognised that the festival “is not just about dance from around the world. It’s also about dance from around the corner”.
Jonzi D in conversation with DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore
Local acts included Block 1750, Chase Evered, Whole Milk, Breaking Barriers, The Freak Show, Love Es Love, Side by Side and B-Boy Factory, who also performed at the student matinee on Friday, which attracted an audience of 2,500 pupils.
A highlight was the 303 Free Jam, which kick-started the festival with a rich programme of dance workshops, graffiti, MCs, DJs and impromptu dance sessions delivered by Breakin’ Convention in collaboration with the headline artists.
“Considering that we don’t always have the opportunity to move the way we want, we really wanted to take advantage of this,” said Abner Genece, who took his son Jaden to the 303 Free Jam. “It fills me with joy to see him out there expressing himself. It’s amazing really to have the exposure to artists from all over the world, not only visually but movement-wise, music, vocally. To be able to expose him to all these different kinds of influences is great, and show him there’s a whole world out there right here in Denver.”
Mastering the steps with Ivan the Urban Action Figure. Image: John Moore
Young attendees wearing Breakin’ Convention’s merch. Image: Emma Ponsford
Graffiti workshop. Image: John Moore
Antoinette Gomis’ free Sample Session workshop. Image: John Moore.
This September, Breakin’ Convention brings the work of French choreographer Pierre Rigal to the stage, fusing contemporary and hip hop styles in Scandale. We spoke to Pierre to find out more.
You studied mathematical economics and cinema as well as being a top athlete specialising in 400m hurdles!! How did you end up becoming a choreographer?
Not a coincidence but almost! It’s a question of instinct. One day I took an African contemporary dance class with a friend and I really loved it. I looked at a lot of videos of pieces and it quickly became something very important in my life. After a few years I had an audition as a choreographer in London. At the beginning I thought it would only last for 3 or 6 months because I thought I was too old because (I was already almost 30 at this point and already working in the movie industry). Now, more than 10 years later, I’m still in dance and creating my own work. I suppose dance is the best way for me to express myself. It was more natural for me to express myself through the body.
Your work is often described as being on the border between hip hop, theatre and contemporary dance. Where do your different influences come from?
I like to mix different styles. Of course, I learnt a bit of African dance but also a bit of contemporary and hip hop, and I like to mix the aesthetics of these types of movement. I also like to work with actors, singers, contemporary and classical dancers. I did a piece for the Paris Opera Ballet, which is certainly one of the most classical dance companies. I like to understand how different people move, how they are interested in dance and then I compose my own choreography, my own universe, with the collaboration and participation of all these talented dancers. In Scandale, I work with some very talented dancers and I encourage them to play with the borders of movement aesthetics, mixing contemporary choreography and also perhaps primitive and African traditional dance.
Your piece Scandale explores the origins of choreography and questions whether music is the mother of dance. As a choreographer, is music always the starting point for your work?
In my own work the music is a partner, rather than a mother. Usually we compose the music at the same time or sometimes after the choreography. The music of my pieces is usually original, with the musician/composer present during rehearsals and the creation of the movement. He is looking at the movement we are creating and then he starts to compose in parallel with us. I like to work in this way because it allows the music to be very ‘in-dialogue’ with the movement.
In Scandale, the composer is waiting for the dancers first; waiting for their sounds, the noises they are making. The breaths, the cries, the love. The musician captured these sounds live and then composed his own trance music.
For me, it’s important that the audience experience what the music does to the body. Sometimes when we hear music, especially trance or ritual forms of music, the body is obliged to move. It cannot stay still. Perhaps the audience will experience this a little bit!
Your work is often very theatrical and tongue in cheek, creating visual spectacles on the stage! Can we expect any surprises in Scandale?
Scandale is a very choreographic piece, with some light surprises and scenography surprises! The main purpose of the piece is the energy and movement of the dancers, and also the link between the energy of the musician and the music. I think that the scenography is very simple, but with something very simple we can create some very beautiful images.
What has it been like working with dancers from the b-boy crew Yeah Yellow on this piece?
We had worked together for a while before establishing their own crew, Yeah Yellow. We ended up doing a show that was more for the theatre; a narrative fictional piece. Yeah Yellow is a very spectacular battle crew and I like these two different ways of seeing hip hop. Hip hop can be very efficient for battles and very inspiring for longer, narrative-based shows.
Why did you choose to name the work ‘Scandale’?
The etymology of this word ‘scandale’ comes from the word ‘scandere’ in Latin, which means ‘stumble’ in English. Change the normality of the walk. That’s why later it became ‘Scandale’ – something that changes the normality. I was interested in the stem of this word and also the same word in French, ‘scancion’, which is kind of repetitive singing. I like the link between these two etymologic interpretations.
What was your biggest challenge in creating Scandale?
I like surprises, and I have to create the right conditions to allow the birth of surprises and to be aware of them and catch all the little ideas that could be developed. It’s like a game with some stress, some love, some joy and when it’s finished and the audience like the piece, we are very happy. That’s why I’m excited to come back to London, to Sadler’s Wells, and for Breakin’ Convention to present this piece!
Scandale is performed at Sadler’s Wells on 5 & 6 Sep. Tickets are available now priced at £20 by calling the Ticket Office on 020 7863 8000 or book online at sadlerswells.com
This weekend was the culmination of Graffical, a project run by our Breakin’ Convention team and funded by Islington Council’s Summerversity programme. For four days, participants aged between 13 and 21 had explored different aspects of hip-hop lyricism aided by three mentors: the poet and art educator Poetcurious, the rapper Reveal and the graffiti artist Mr. Dane. At a local youth facility, Soapbox Islington, they wrote their own lyrics and brought them to life via the medium of visual art; using paint, markers and POSCA pens. (Since they first entered the market in 1983, POSCA paint pens have had a formative role in the cultural history of urban art and are still revered in the graffiti community and wider visual arts today).
On Sunday, their creations were exhibited at Sadler’s Wells. The art they produced represents their lived experiences and candidly reflects how these young people navigate their social environments. The participants had never met or worked together previously, and the result was outstanding. The Graffical project struck a chord both with members of the public and the participants themselves. Zion, 13, said of his mentors Poetcurious, Reveal and Mr. Dane, “I wish my art teachers were like you”. Brian, 17, said he would definitely use the opportunity to do take part in a similar project in the future.
Sadler’s Wells recognises that the most effective way to produce great art is to allow artists to create work on their own terms – a particular forte of the youth outreach programme run by Breakin’ Convention. When artists are given the freedom and the opportunity, their creativity can shine.
After breaking box office records on their first Canadian dates in June, Breakin’ Convention, our international festival of hip-hop dance theatre, concluded its triumphant 2017 tour with a return to the USA, presenting 11 shows over four weeks across Charlotte, Denver, Harlem and Miami.
The festival returned to Charlotte’s Knight Theater at Levine Center for the Arts and Harlem’s Apollo Theater, and was also held for the first time at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami and the Denver Center for Performing Arts. As ever, it featured performances by a mixture of international and local dance artists and offered a rich programme featuring dance workshops, graffiti, DJs and freestyle dance circles.
International headliners included France’s dynamic b-boy crew Yeah Yellow and iconic hip-hop dancer Salah, while South Africa’s Soweto Skeleton Movers performed the high-energy, quick-stepping dance style Pantsula. In three of the touring cities, they were joined by dancer and choreographer Popin’ Pete, a pioneer of the ‘popping’ dance style and founding member of street dance crew Electric Boogaloos. All-female US popping crew Femme Fatale joined Breakin’ Convention for the first time in Charlotte.
Representing the UK was Protocol Dance Company, who presented a powerful duet called I Can’t Breathe. The piece, exploring the theme of power and racial tensions present in communities today, visibly moved audiences. Protocol developed the piece as part of Back to The Lab, one of Breakin’ Convention’s professional development programmes for hip hop artists.
These were incredibly successful dates for Breakin’ Convention, with over 13,000 people attending the whole American tour and the performances receiving over 40 standing ovations. In Denver, 2234 people attended the schools matinee, breaking a new record for the festival.
Next year, Breakin’ Convention will celebrate its 15th anniversary at Sadler’s Wells on 5-7 May 2018. You can book tickets here.