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Breakin' Convention 05

Top 9 tops the crowd

by Ana Abad-Carles

May 14, 2005 -- Sadler's Wells, London

During the weekend from 13th to 15th of May, Sadler’s Wells held their second International Festival of Hip Hop Dance Theatre, Breakin’ Conventions 05. I had heard great comments about the first one and I was really excited about attending this one. I was not disappointed. Sadler’s Wells turned itself into an open space where Hip Hop fans, families and dance enthusiast gathered for the occasion. The atmosphere was fantastic, with a buzz of creativity which is hard to find at most dance events. Kids were practising hip hop moves in the different areas of the theatre, the auditorium transformed itself into an arena where people just cheered, entered and left without the usual protocol applied to “latecomers”.

I attended some of the performances on Saturday and they were of different levels, from the amateur to the highly sophisticated. One of the things that was fascinating to watch was the way hip hop has been absorbing influences from other dance forms and incorporating them to its idiom. Another fascinating feature was the level of some of these kids dancing on the Sadler’s Wells stage, especially considering that most of them are not being trained professionally.

In an interview for Animated, the magazine published by Foundation for Community Dance, after the Convention last year, Jonzi D had explained how the performances had been planned taking into consideration that the average attention span of hip hop audiences was limited, therefore the performances lasted for about 15 minutes. The same principle applied this year, though the Russian group Top 9 proved that this attention span can vary enormously when the performers can offer such varied and stunning an act as they did!

The performances were introduced by Jonzi D – in crutches after an Achilles tendon injury - and MC Mell’O. They set the tone of joy and excitement for the proceedings. One thing was quite obvious, they do know their audiences and how to connect with them; a lesson that more than one artistic director should perhaps take into consideration.

The afternoon started with a short act by the Holloway Boyz that showed the basics of Hip Hop: a group of male kids practising routines that went from the very simple to the more acrobatic. Still, they obviously had a good following among the audience and the performance was enjoyable to watch.

Next came Idance with a piece called "Elements of the Playground", a work that incorporates the theatricality of musical theatre as well as many elements from different dance forms. Some of the performers were simply great, showing a commitment and professionalism on the stage hard to find in such young and non professional level.

Status presented "Evolution" next. Again, some good performers, more hip hop based, and with some stunning theatrical stunts.

Dance 2XS presented "The Damned", reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s "Thriller", but with, once again, a theatricality that was quite surprising. These performers obviously knew their contemporary dance as well as their musical theatre basics, or, if they did not, they certainly had it under their skins. The piece was longer than the previous ones and it had some quite interesting theatrical stunts. At times it reminded me of "Cats" – perhaps they would not be too happy about reading this – in strictly movement terms. But the lead’s stage presence as well as the commitment of the performers struck me as highly sophisticated.

Next came the first international performance of the evening, Top 9, from Russia. It is confirmed, there is something in the water these Russians drink that allow them to dance the way they do, be it classical ballet, modern or hip hop! The audience was in a continuous uproar at everything they did. They managed to fuse classical music with hip hop in a way that was not only beautifully crafted but hilarious to watch. Audiences responded to their jokes with an almost lost sense of recognition. Here was an audience capable of recognising and laughing at the jokes and transgressions made to their movement language and style they so well know. Audiences elsewhere, please take note!

At a time when even the most obvious jokes Ashton or Balanchine played on their audiences are treated with a seriousness only found in MacMillan’s most dramatic pieces, it was refreshing to be able to laugh without feeling guilty for spoiling the sense of propriety of the person sitting next to you. My favourite part of their act – and there were many glorious moments in it – was the moment when they used jazz music with a tap routine and they responded to the tap rhythm with their own hip hop routines at unbelievable speed and precision. A joy to watch and a lesson to learn on how to fuse elements from so many different origin and make them work.

The last performance I watched was that by Flowzaic, a female hip hop group based in London. Unfortunately, after Top 9’s performance, there was little they could have done in order to stand out. What was a bit disappointing was the attempt in these girls to emulate their male counterparts in all they did. Hip Hop started as a male dance style, but by now more and more women are participating and the style has been adapted very successfully.

Congratulations to Sadler’s Wells for organising this event. It was wonderful to be there and be part of the celebrations. Also, sincere admiration to the young performers that showed us all how much talent there is out there! Hip hop, as Jonzi D said in the interview, is here to stay – it is adapting and it is transforming itself at incredible speed. It is high time the more established dance forms start considering what is happening in this urban dance form.


Edited by Staff.

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