Breakin’ Convention, Sadler’s Wells, London – review

Asked for a snapshot of our day – exact and resonant as a picture from a century ago of marching suffragettes or a crowd of young men enlisting in the army – then let me propose a view of the interior of Sadler’s Wells as the hip-hop festivities ended on Monday night. You would see an eager mass of young people crowding the theatre to the gunwales, shouting for the dancers and their dances as they erupt on stage, finding in them an exact response to their ideals. It is a picture of engagement, of identity, of aspiration and, for some at least of today’s young, an implicit comment on their situation.

This dancing is their voice, and I suspect that its tone is intensified by the social pressures and private dreams that are channelled into these annual celebrations of hip-hop, both for what they are – ferociously eager, honest – and for what they tell so vividly about their devotees.

Not that the first half of the programme which I saw at this closing jamboree was of unblemished delight. The two women’s groups were of heavy-duty tedium. The first – the British troupe Boadicea Ladies – proposed an exercise class with ideas above its station. The Swedish ensemble P*fect provided an unwelcome opportunity to glimpse the wardresses from hell on the rampage. Each seemed more tiresomely inbred and predictable than the other.

I was intrigued by a boldly un-defined dramatic fantasy about (I hazard) football, vividly staged by Far From the Norm (who might be called – and admired as – Far from the Obvious). They offered an oblique, hardcore study of frustrated actions.

Chief delight, and it would have been doubled had their presentation been less portentous, was the Dutch troupe Don’t Hit Mama, led by a genius drummer, with his companions offering dazzling variations on hip-hop actions, spinning and whirling with the impossible bravura of several Paganinis. And to reassert traditional values, the Street Kingdom troupe from Los Angeles with old-fashioned yet newfangled street dance: men with not a foot or a head or a shoulder out of place, part of a grand dance tradition. Hip Hop Hurray!

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