Breakin’ glad! Festival showcases hip-hop dance as ‘art form’

Poppin’ & lockin’ as performers from around the world head for Sadler’s Wells

Thursday, 14th April — By Anna Lamche

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The Breakin’ Convention festival will be at Sadler’s Wells from April 29

“OLD attitudes” stop hip-hop dance getting the respect it deserves, the artistic director of an upcoming festival has said.

Jonzi D, who has lived in Islington for 27 years, is the artistic director of Breakin’ Convention, a festival celebrating hip-hop dance theatre, taking place at Sadler’s Wells in Clerkenwell at the end of the month.

The festival, which brings hip-hop dance into the formal, more traditional environment of the theatre, is all about amplifying “the aesthetics of the dance, the beauty of the dance”, Jonzi said. “Usually we see hip-hop dance as part of a competition, but here we see it as a form of art.”

For Jonzi, dance theatre offers an alternative to traditional theatre, and the primacy of the script.

“There’s this idea that the script is the bible in theatrical practice, but I don’t believe that – it can be movement-led,” he said. While “there is some storytelling” in dance theatre, performances are often paired with poems, Jonzi said.

Performers are coming from across the globe – as far as Peru, Australia and Canada – to break, pop and lock it on the stage of Sadler’s Wells this month.

Jonzi D

D1 Dance Company, a group which is coming all the way from Peru, are hip-hop dancers whose practice is infused with Latin American influences.

This is the festival’s 19th year, but Jonzi says there is “still this idea that [hip-hop dance] is a ‘new approach’, but it’s been around for 25 years – 25 years is a long time”.

He said: “I think people still think it’s ‘new’ because of power struggles, and arts funding.”

He said that hip-hop dance often doesn’t attract grants or tranches of funding from organisations because it is not seen as an established form such as ballet.

“Rome wasn’t built in a day. There are a lot of old attitudes that need to go,” he said. “But there is a new audience that is recognising [hip-hop]. It’s happening slowly but surely.”

Jonzi hopes that the UK will one day hold hip-hop the same esteem as Holland, “where they’ve pushed the idea of hip-hop artists doing a full evening of work, not a short showcase”. As a teenager, Jonzi studied dance at the London Contemporary Dance School, where dance “was very institutional – I was one of the few black guys there”, he said. “I enjoyed hip-hop outside of that space.”

It was only after growing “disillusioned” with both forms – dance for being over-formal and stuffy on the one hand, and hip-hop as being full of “gangster [stuff]” on the other – he said he realised he “had to pull theatre and hip-hop together – and the rest is history”.

Running from April 29 to May 1, Breakin’ Convention festival is a big event in London’s hip-hop calendar, and, along with film screenings, will feature performances from international poets and hip-hop dancers.

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