Breakin' Convention raise roof with jazz-indebted dance riot at Sadler's Wells

 

Founded in 2004 by 'choreopoet' Jonzi D and still curated by him, this annual celebration of hip hop dance takes a startling turn towards jazz this year. And that makes perfect sense given the longstanding entwinement of the genres. The sight of a 15-piece live band commissioned by Jazz Re:freshed, MD'd by saxophonist Jason Yarde and packed with an array of talent – Orphy Robinson, Jay Phelps, Nubya Garcia, Sheila Maurice-Grey, Ayanna Witter-Johnson (above) to name but some – brings an added surge of excitement to the succession of international crews that take to the stage, which, on the final night of the weekend-long event, has the audience amped with roof-raising energy.

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The aesthetics of each differ considerably, with perhaps the UK's acclaimed Boy Blue (above) being the ensemble whose style has a residue of the slick and seamless 'hoofers' and lindy-hoppers of the swing era, while Holland's The Ruggeds are a brilliantly experimental blend of breakdance and contemporary. As for the other British ensemble, The Locksmiths, they crackle with life. Ditto France's Mufasa, a large company with a vigorous, exuberant African character. In each case, the music provided by Yarde's big band is powerfully appropriate. The hefty stabs of horns, often tightly synced with the movements on stage, particularly for a Jonzi D solo piece where his arm extensions are punctuated by the brass and reeds, impart a fantastically vibrant quality to the performance that underlines the great lineage of orchestra-dancer unions exemplified by the likes of Cab Calloway-Nicholas bros. However, there is also much subtlety elsewhere, and the down tempo, dub-inflected pieces, where guitarist Shirley Tetteh's deft finger-picking is prominent, are a perfect foil for the more sensual routines, in which bodies arch and glide with real grace. 

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Most importantly, the band (visible above with Boy Blue) is able to adequately harden its attack as the evening builds to a climax, and as all of the dancers shuffle joyously on stage the sheer weight of numbers finds a striking parallel in the depth of the Afro-funk that galvanises them.

Kevin Le Gendre

Photos by Belinda Lawley

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