This year, Sadler’s Wells has once again been working in collaboration with BBC Young Dancer to provide expert advice and support across the biennial competition’s four categories: Ballet, Contemporary, South Asian and Street Dance.
With one day to go until the overall winner of BBC Young Dancer 2019 is unveiled at the grand final at Birmingham Hippodrome this Saturday, we ask judge and Sadler’s Wells’ Associate Artist Jonzi D for the top five things he is looking for in the winning dancer.
This year’s winning candidate will have something powerful, and importantly something new to say. They will be a risk-taker with a fresh take on their style; one that transports us outside of the box and brings us closer to something truly special.
We were blown away by this year’s performance by our former NYDC member Adanna Lawrence in the contemporary final of BBC Young Dancer.
I’m looking for someone who inspires confidence – someone who puts me at ease through their movement. I’m not worried when I watch them perform, because neither are they.
Here’s the perfect throwback to Archie Sullivan performing the wonderfully playful Les Bourgeois for the Ballet Final of BBC Young Dancer 2015.
3. Technical Dexterity
Alongside a strong passion for
dance, our 2019 winner will have the full package of technique and talent that
speaks for itself – letting us know loud and clear that they have what it takes
to get to the next level.
Contemporary dancer Connor Scott became the first ever BBC Young Dancer winner in 2015, and you can definitely see why in his first solo, Get Up, which he choreographed himself.
The winner will have a rhythmic ear. They will be adept at interpreting music, repeating that music, and transmit that through their body language in ways that defy our expectations. It’s a skill of extreme precision, knowing not only how to hit the beat, but also when.
Take for instance Jodelle Douglas and Matthew ‘MindTrick’ Holt’s body-popping duet ‘Canvas’, performed at the BBC Young Dancer 2017 Street Dance Final.
Of course, we couldn’t forget Keiran Lai’s Transformer-esque first solo ‘Tinman’, which he performed for the Hip Hop Final in 2015.
…and not the marriage kind! We’re looking for a connection with the audience that runs deeper than the eye can see. It’s that special je ne sais quoi about a performance that can make our hair stand on end, something spectacular that grips us and leaves us wanting more.
We still get chills remembering the stunning kathak duet from South Asian category winner Vidya Patel and Jaina Modasia in the 2015 finals.
The Grand Final for BBC Young Dancer will be broadcast on BBC Two on Saturday 18 May at 8pm and be available on BBC iPlayer.
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.
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
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