There is, on the inside cover of Sadler’s Wells’ programme for this year’s 10th and splendid celebration of street dance, a photograph taken from the stage showing the auditorium of the theatre during a previous Breakin’ Convention event. Crammed to the rafters with an eager public, the front stalls replaced by standing or seated fans, recording an almost tangible delight and involvement, the picture shows – indeed, sums up – everything that is best and most significant about this annual explosion of popular dance, of endeavour and achievement by young men and women who find in the demands of street dance a means of asserting their identity, of exploring their gifts, of showing their creative power.
I am totally convinced by these May bank holiday weekends of demotic art, from dance and graffiti to clothing – dress and stage presence as braver image of self. I hugely admire the energies, the astuteness, the virtuosity through which this urban identity is developed as a way of being, of speaking to and questioning the larger world. Am I over-stressing my enthusiasm? After a decade in which I have been happy to truncate a holiday weekend to watch Breakin’, I think not. What Alistair Spalding, as director of the theatre, and Jonzi D as artistic director, have so grandly done, is to foster a public understanding of this dance-form, give it local and international credibility and stature, and make the Wells – as Lilian Baylis its great founder intended – a people’s theatre, emblematic of the finest and most pertinent artistic endeavours.
I am sometimes – as this year – admiring of Breakin’ Convention for what it represents rather than for what it offers. From Monday night’s dance-creations, all newly made for this anniversary, I saw seven out of 10 sincere, eagerly done contributions. My heart was won by the Bad Taste Cru dancing to Dave Brubeck’s Take Five, which I thought witty, hard-edged, sure in focus – some of the other works on display tended to sprawl – sizzling in energy, and meriting a filmed record.
The printed programme for this festival is a significant document for future reference: this is how it really and splendidly is.