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Hip hop to it as Sadler’s Wells opens up

Covid and Black Lives Matter inspire rebranded Breakin’ Convention

04 December, 2020 — By Helen Chapman

Breakin’ Convention features the all-female A.I.M popping crew. Photo: Belinda Lawley

ONE of Islington’s most famous theatres is looking to bounce back from the national lockdown with a hip hop show as its first live performances.

Hip hop theatre director Jonzi D said a summer that saw the Black Lives Matters protests, as well as the coronavirus crisis, had inspired his work ahead of the return of audiences to Sadler’s Wells.

For 18 years, the theatre in Clerkenwell has been staging the Breakin’ Convention under his direction. Next week, it will be rebranded for this year only – hopefully – as the Breakin’ Convention Social DisDancing.

“I was fully part of the Black Lives Matter demos that took part in London – it affected me,” Jonzi D said. “Just to be around people who all have something to say and something to fight for – it felt absolutely powerful and healing.”

The worldwide protests followed the death of George Floyd in Minnesota after being kneeled on by a police officer.

Next week’s show will feature hip hop dance crews from across the country and a screening of a film Jonzi D directed during lockdown called Our Bodies Back. The short film features poetry and dance telling the story of violence against Black women featuring words by Detroit poet Jessica Care Moore.

Jonzi D: ‘I have always done work that is coming from the UK Black perspective’. Photo: Ben Wachenje

“It was an honour to have the Black American voice,” he said, “racism is a global phenomenon.”

In 2011 when Jonzi D was offered an MBE for his services to British dance, he turned it down and made a theatre show based on his experience.

He added: “I have always done work that is coming from the UK Black perspective. When I rejected it, I was a bit concerned about sharing the info about it. I didn’t want to go on TV and have to battle with some white colonialist type about it so I made some theatre about it instead.”

Jonzi D described the process as “cathartic”, adding: “There were some who said ‘I came to watch dance not propaganda’ but it was cathartic for me. It was real. I knew I was going to p*** off some of my close friends and family but I knew a lot of my audience would appreciate what I had done and celebrate it. Quite often you have got revolutionary voices who accept it and go grovelling to the Queen. That’s not me.”

Although this year’s Breakin’ Convention event will be different to past performances – there will be no mingling with the DJs during the breaks and no food being served – Jonzi D said he hopes it will bring people together.

He said: “Social distancing, as well as it being something that will help stop the spread of disease, will also exacerbate loneliness and create stress on our mental health. There are so many issues with lockdown but I think going to the theatre can heal. It’s about being able to relate to stories, relate to each other, by being in an audience.”

Breakin’ Convention Social DisDancing will be at Sadler’s Wells on December 11 and 12. For more details go to www.sadlerswells.com

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