Breakin’ Convention 2020: Social DisDancing at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: January 12th, 2021 | Author: | Filed under: Dance on Screen, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Breakin’ Convention 2020: Social DisDancing at Sadler’s Wells

Breakin’ Convention, Social DisDancing, Sadler’s Wells, December 11

Breakin' Convention Jonzi D
Jonzi D as MC (photo @Belinda Lawley)

Yes! A live performance at Sadler’s Wells in a brief respite from Covid restrictions. The subtitle of Jonzi D’s Breakin’ Convention riffs on government guidelines to produce Social DisDancing, an event tailored for a smaller audience at Sadler’s Wells than would normally attend this annual celebration of hip hop, proscribed by current safety regulations assiduously carried out by the theatre staff. 

Since its inception in 2004 Breakin’ Convention has mapped ‘the origins and evolution of hip hop culture from around the world and around the corner’. Embodied in its ethos is a resistance to the norms of western theatre art and a choreographic celebration of Black identity, channelling the spirit of the Black Lives Matter movement long before it materialised. The killings of George Floyd — once a rapper affiliated with Houston’s Screwed Up Click — Breonna Taylor and Sandra Bland are three recent reminders in the U.S. of the systemic racial violence that constantly feeds into hip hop’s emotional charge.  

Looking at the three stage performances and two films presented at this year’s Breakin’ Convention, the notion of resistance and defiance is ingrained in the choreography both in its physical power and unyielding psychology, but the enemy is sometimes within. Mental health issues are prominent in O’Driscoll Collective’s One%, where oppression is internalized as a struggle between bboy Marius Mates and his shadow, Jamaal O’Driscoll, while in Botis Seva’s solo filmed portrait of depression, Can’t Kill Us All, he takes themes of his BLKDOG and personalizes them, with his young rambunctious son as an antidote to his own dark state of life. The framing of the film by Ben Williams adds to the impression of suffocation in Seva’s powerfully tactile performance, drawing a parallel between the politics of mental health and those of racial discrimination. 

Breakin' Convention Axelle 'Ebony' Munezero
Axelle ‘Ebony’ Munezero in Our Bodies Back

Jonzi D’s film, Our Bodies Back, created with poet and performance artist jessica Care moore, is overt political resistance not only to the murder of Black women but to the pervasive anti-Black attitude to women. Three dancers in three cities — Nafisa Baba in London, Bolegue Manuela in Hanover and Axelle ‘Ebony’ Munezero in Montreal — each choreographed their response to moore’s words, filmed by three cameramen and seamlessly edited by Ben Williams. The power of each of these women is self-evident, but if their choreographic resistance takes its coiled force from the incendiary anger of moore’s delivery, it also extends through their bodies into an expression of hope and freedom, giving anger wings. The outdoor settings in which they are filmed may have helped this impression, but it’s also in moore’s metaphor of the body as both crime scene and source of inspiration. Invoking Judith Jamieson and Katherine Dunham, she incites these black, female bodies to continue resisting with unfettered confidence; Munezero resists with eloquence, Manuela with power and a Baba with soaring spirit. 

In Boy Blue Entertainment’s Untethered 3.0 there is an overt sense of existential oppression that explodes in passages of virtuosic solo and ensemble dance. Here, the men (and Nicey Belgrave) remain resolutely within a style that has the aggressive DNA of hip hop while remaining self-referential; unlike in Can’t Kill Us All and Our Bodies Back, there is no way out. And yet, at the end when the cast relaxes and smiles to the applause of the crowd, the mask of aggression drops for a natural expression of joy. Could this not be a starting rather than an end point? Resistance can take many forms: in an early work, Aeroplane Man, Jonzi-D demonstrated a form of resistance filtered through his ebullient, sardonic wit and a freedom of movement grammar. It communicates on many levels and is still relevant today. How relevant will Untethered 3.0 be in 10 years? 

Breakin' Convention Hip Hop A.I.M Collective
The cast of A,I.M Collective in Suspended (photo: @Belinda Lawley)

The all-female A.I.M Collective’s Suspended was the one stage work that had no difficulty in exuding an exhilarating sense of mystery. The technical acuity of the performers is clear and there is an imagination at work in the choreography — the work was created by the company’s founder, Sean Aimey, along with the cast — that breaks up the force into contrasting filigree elements. The result is a sense of strength and resilience that breathes self-confidence.        

In choreographic terms, there’s a danger that a genre as powerful as hip hop can become trapped in its own form (the same can happen with a genre like ballet where the past fails to adapt to the present). What Our Bodies Back and Suspended seem to suggest is that female intuition and power have a vital role to play in the development of hip hop and of Breakin’ Convention in particular. 


Ian Abbott on Theo ‘Godson’ Oloyade’s K.R.U.M.P Macbeth at Trinity Laban

Posted: July 27th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott on Theo ‘Godson’ Oloyade’s K.R.U.M.P Macbeth at Trinity Laban

Theo ‘Godson’ Oloyade: K.R.U.M.P Macbeth at Trinity Laban, July 17

Oloyade

The cast in Theo ‘Godson’ Oloyade’s K.R.U.M.P. Macbeth (photo: Stefano Ottaviano)

A man who aspires to rise above the mediocre, to be something more than the ordinary, surely deserves admiration, even if he fails and loses a fortune on account of his ambitions… if one has failed only where others have not had the courage or will to try, there is consolation — indeed, deep satisfaction — to be gained from his observation when looking back over one’s life.” – Kazuo Ishiguro

Riding, reworking and interpreting classic works of western literature is the default setting for a lot of UK male-led dance companies of late; Lost Dog’s Paradise Lost/Juliet & Romeo, Mark Bruce Company’s The Odyssey and Dracula, Avant Garde Dance’s Fagin’s Twist, James Wilton Dance’s Leviathan and James Cousins Company’s Rosalind are just some of the examples. Often framed as an opportunity to attract new or theatre audiences to dance, it could be seen as a smart marketing device or a poverty of original ideas. Macbeth has a particularly strong hold on current choreographic minds with Company Chordelia’s Lady Macbeth Unsex Me Here, Mark Bruce Company’s Macbeth and now K.R.U.M.P Macbeth by Theo ‘Godson’ Oloyade all undertaking the Shakespearean Scottish play in the last 12 months.

At 55 minutes long with a cast of four (Amanda Pefkou, Jordan Franklin, Dean Stewart and Vincent Maduabueke) this is Oloyade’s first full-length theatrical work after spending a number of years performing with Boy Blue Entertainment, making shorter works at Breakin’ Convention as well as being an excellent exponent and teacher of krump. Whereas others may ply their trade at Resolution, building up experience in other platforms, or refining the work back in the studio Oloyade has chosen to premiere K.R.U.M.P Macbeth at Laban after an earlier showing of a few sections at Redbridge Drama Centre in May. Macbeth is a text full of hooks and angles of approach: power, murder, psychological warfare and familial tyranny. Mix this with the depth of emotion, delicate and explosive qualities and body shuddering invigoration that krump has in the cypher or battle and K.R.U.M.P Macbeth has a suite of possibilities; unfortunately it fails at nearly everything it attempts.

With no director, dramaturg or outside eye present according to the programme notes, Oloyade as choreographer is left holding responsibility for the blocking, movement and stagecraft, but his theatrical inexperience is brutally exposed with a raft of saggy scenes, continual slow movement of limbs that do not result in tension or emotional engagement, a number of moments inexplicably playing upstage left, and a stick-stabbing shadow death scene that would fit better in a 1970s schlocky horror film. The staccato nature of K.R.U.M.P Macbeth feels like a diluted version of a York Notes guide to a Chinese whisper broadcast of the original Shakespearian play. It is unrecognisable as Macbeth and Oloyade offers no alternative artistic interpretation, little depth of research/inquiry and no emotional narrative to help us feel anything towards any character.

Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.” – Zora Neale Hurston

Choreographically Oloyade has constricted the form and at the same time constricted the work; it is full of unnecessary blockages with the dancers waiting for the obvious musical changes from Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante’s dominant soundtrack stretching out the movement without developing the narrative, and attempts at synchronised krump are inadequate with the stomps out at least 50% of the time. There is an uneven quality in their jabs, isolation/physical punctuation and our eyes are consistently drawn to those dancers who are unable to keep time. Mixing and/or blending krump with contemporary knee slides and fake rifle holding neither satisfies the krump purist nor brings a new choreographic vocabulary to those unfamiliar with the form; we’re left with a sticky choreographic mess that is only exacerbated when in the final scene ‘KRUMP’ is blurted out over the soundtrack offering all the subtlety of a hip hop anvil. Can you imagine a Scottish Dance Theatre soundtrack blaring ‘CONTEMPORARY DANCE’ in a climactic scene or Ballet Cymru using a ‘BALLET’ audio sting in the final moments? When the stage is bathed in red the Goddess of Blunt Instruments is making it obvious: we know what is going on.

Within the company there are dancers with individual talent and virtuosity; Maduabueke offers charged flickers of intensity whilst Stewart delivers some moments of choreographic power and complexity, but there is so little glue, context or relationship forged between them that it erases any of the possibilities.

When Oloyade presented his eight-minute work Hell’s Gate 7 at Breakin’ Convention last year there were interesting relational dynamics, power and theatrical possibilities demonstrating that he has choreographic talent, but the leap from an eight to a 55-minute work is too big. The stagecraft, direction and dramaturgy need consideration and attention if he wants to make a full-length theatrical work. Within the individual scenes of K.R.U.M.P Macbeth there are interesting shorter sections that either could be harvested and sit alone in their own right as smaller pieces or re-worked and expanded.

This is a wider issue that a lot of hip hop dance artists are facing: how to make the shift from making micro works to a full evening. There is a gap that needs filling around the 25-30 minute work that could be presented in a double bill that would enable that growth, choreographic expansion and depth of idea to be tested. Often the ego and the ambition says Yes, I can make a full-length work, but would an architect make the step from designing a conservatory to building an entire town? But perhaps Oloyade can take comfort in what Kurt Vonnegutonce wrote: “And a step backward, after making a wrong turn, is a step in the right direction.”