Hip Hop In Theatreland

January 13, 2024
4 mins read

By Belinda Otas
Thursday, May 1, 2008.
The history and culture of hip-hop has been attributed to a varying number of people over the years. However, one thing is certain – hip-hop is a culture that transcends race.
It is a dance form that has diversified over the years; from the streets of Brazil to the townships of South Africa, you are bound to find a group of kids on the street and in one corner body-popping and locking as they try to recreate what they see in music videos.
Breakin’ Convention has been a pioneer of hip-hop dance in the UK, from its humble beginnings, when it was a two day event at Sadlers Wells, London.  Now in its fifth year, it has become an international hip-hop dance festival. Jonzi D, the visionary behind Breakin’ Convention has been revolutionising the way hip-hop is perceived in the UK since the 1980s from his days of rapping and b-boying on the streets, to touring hip-hop dance theatre in 1996.
Jonzi D understands that theatres in Britain are yet to be penetrated by hip-hop, but that given the chance, a theatre company whose focus centred on hip-hop would be a success.
 “I always knew that England didn’t have as much in terms of hip-hop and I knew that as soon as they get that chance, it was going to be big,” he said. “And the reason why I knew it was going to be big was because of the culture of hip-hop. Hip-hop dance, I think is the most exciting, most contemporary dance form out there. I also know that the audience for hip-hop dance is big and is increasing generally and also, the participation of people who want to do hip-hop dance is  bigger than any other dance form around at the moment. So, for all of these reasons, I always knew that it would be successful.”
Willing to test the waters, Jonzi D has dedicated his efforts to the development of hip-hop theatre in the UK. He is the founder of Jonzi D Productions, an associate company of Sadler’s Wells. He has toured four continents of the world and still he is breaking the mode at home with the yearly instalments of Breakin’ Convention since 2003.
     “The reason I knew it was going to be successful  
      was because of the culture of hip-hop. Hip-hop
     dance is the most exciting, most contemporary
    dance form out there.”
This year’s theme is ‘Five years,’ which mirrors the journey they have been on. It is also an opportunity to demonstrate how far the culture of hip-hop has gained a following in the UK.
He said: “I think we really broke the convention by having hip-hop dance like break dancing, b-boying and body popping as being the technique where people would then create their theatre. So, I think that is a huge break in the convention of theatre for sure.”
Since its inception, Breakin’ Convention has opened to critical acclaim and Jonzi D is hoping to repeat that same success with this year’s line-up – an ensemble of international dance artists, which includes Membros, a Brazilian dance group, Tony GoGo and the GoGo Brothers and Project Soul among other well established theatre dance groups and companies.
Jonzi D said: “Breakin’ Convention has always been an international dance theatre. I think hip-hop culture is a culture of globalisation. There is not one country on this earth where you will not find one pocket or a community of people who live and dance and rap, and just absorb hip-hop. For me, it is important to reflect that in this world where there is so much division, it is important to show that the world is talking to each other. Now is the perfect time to have an international dance festival.”
Dance is not all the audience will be treated to at this year’s festival. There is also a film premiere night with Inside The Circle –  a production Jonzi D fondly describes as “stunning”.
Filmed over a period of four years, it documents the relationship between the director and the film’s two main characters, giving insight into the aspirations of two young men who want to dance.
He said: “Basically, it is documenting how important dance is, and how hip-hop dance inspires life and giving them the chance to travel the world and on a micro level, how hip-hop is giving someone the chance to not be in jail. It really looks at the humanity of the participants of the whole hip-hop culture.”
Like other hip-hop pioneers, Jonzi D has also had to deal with the challenges of being in an ever evolving industry and despite his success he believes access to this dance for those who are keen is the biggest hurdle. He said: “I think access, the idea that hip-hop can be taught is something that is still alien to some people and I guess it’s that lack understanding of it being a technique. So, I think access is really crucial and also the people attitudes towards this being something that can be studied.”
This year’s festival is not the last on the bill either. Breakin’ Convention recently won a three years Arts Council grant to help support the development of the festival and growth. This will ensure they are able to go on more tours and develop regional hubs and partnerships with other venues and dance agencies in the UK.
Creating a network of Breakin’ Convention hubs that will help facilitate the development of local hip-hop talents, music and visual artists.  For now, Jonzi D wants the audience to leave this year’s festival with a positive view of hip-hop and its potential.
Belinda Otas is a London-based freelance journalist and The New Black Magazine’s features and theatre editor.  She can be reached at belindaotas@thenewblackmagazine.com
Please e-mail comments to comments@thenewblackmagazine.com 

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