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.