Edinburgh hip hop showcase Breakin’ Convention returns to Festival Theatre
Breakin’ Convention is returning to Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre, and organiser Jonzi D and local rep Tony Mills enlisted the help of some of Scotland’s best crews to put on a showcase of hip hop dancing and culture. Kelly Apter meets some of those taking part
Once upon a time, the hip hop dancers of Scotland could only look longingly down to London at the range of opportunities that the form’s annual festival, Breakin’ Convention, had to offer. So, too, the fans of this increasingly popular dance style. But all that changed in 2007, when the event spread its wings and headed out on tour.
Back in Scotland for the third time, Breakin’ Convention 10 promises to be another exciting cocktail of poppin’, lockin’, breaking and all the other sub-sections that make up modern-day hip hop. As usual, the Edinburgh Festival Theatre stage will be filled with a mix of international acts and local crews, while DJs, graffiti artists and more performers will take over the foyer. Then, at the Bongo Club’s epic after party, there’s a unique chance to see the dancers rub shoulders on the dancefloor in a freestyle format.
Following in the wake of previous guests the Electric Boogaloos and Ken Swift, this year’s international acts are French/German duo Sébastien Ramirez and Raphael Hillebrand with their groundbreaking work Seuls Ensemble (‘Together Alone’), inspired by life in the city. While award-winning French troupe Phase T present Trop Tard!, a piece for eight performers that ploughs an explosive path through a range of dance styles.
Breakin’ Convention is also giving local talent a chance to shine. Six groups hailing from Edinburgh, Glasgow, West Lothian and Fife have been cherry picked to showcase the best in Scottish talent. Breakin’ Convention co-host Tony Mills tells us what lies behind his choices. ‘I’m looking for people who come with fresh ideas,’ he says. ‘So if a group wants to explore something new and they’ve got good technique and personality, and a willingness and potential to develop that idea, then I tend to favour that.’ As they prepare for this year’s event, we catch up with the crews who passed the test.
Heavy Smokers/Psycho Stylez
Back to Breakin’ Convention for the third time, these guys are clearly doing something right. Comprising bboys from a range of Edinburgh crews, Heavy Smokers/Psycho Stylez will perform Folding, a piece using the lesser-known dance style of Origami. ‘We don’t want to give too much away,’ says Heavy Smoker Simon Persaud, ‘but just to say that the audience has to concentrate on the show to work out what’s happening. It’s not going to be about tricks and flips this year, it’s more about choreography and actual dancing.’
Tony Mills says: ‘Heavy Smokers have been doing a lot of battling and entering competitions, and are quite an up-and-coming respected crew on the UK scene. Their piece has an interesting concept, and the whole idea behind Breakin’ Convention this year was to go more towards crews who are trying our new ideas and making something different with the vocabulary they already have.’
Edinburgh-based Xena productions won the Set It Off Street Dance Championships at this year’s Fringe, giving them automatic entry to Breakin’ Convention. Founded by Christina Gusthart, the all-female troupe will be performing 9 to 5 during its slot, blending contemporary, vogue, lockin’ and hip hop.
‘I feel strongly about representing women in hip hop,’ says Gusthart, ‘and the Breakin’ Convention stage is the perfect place for this. It’s also a great opportunity for Scotland to come together and express our love for hip hop and to show that there is a community here that is forever growing and evolving.’
Tony Mills says: Christina trained at Liverpool Institute of the Performing Arts, and is now based in Edinburgh. Her company’s piece is about office life for women – the hum drum, the excitement and the ups and downs of that, and is infused with various kinds of styles.’
The youngest crew performing at Breakin’ Convention this year, ZEE DC has 20 dancers aged 9-19. Run by dance teacher Stacey Keenan, the Fife-based company is due to represent Scotland at the European Hip Hop Championships in Paris next year, and impressed hosts Jonzi D and Mills with its unusual approach.
‘At the auditions, the judges said they hadn’t seen anything like our style before,’ says Keenan. ‘The shapes we were making with our bodies and the things we were doing. We try to do a variety of styles and thought that if we take a bit of jazz, cheerleading and gymnastics and mix it together with hip hop we would come out a bit different.’
Tony Mills says: ‘ZEE DC’s choreography and dancing is really tight, and they have appeared on Britain’s Got Talent and So You Think You Can Dance. Their Breakin’ Convention piece Urban Funk Mix is very well executed and intricate hip hop streetdance.’
As a Breakin’ Convention old hand (this is his third appearance) Flyin’ Jalapeno Chris Maule knows the buzz associated with sharing the bill with his heroes. ‘To perform alongside international acts, people I’ve looked up to for many years is quite mind-blowing,’ he says. ‘And Breakin’ Convention is always a good way to challenge ourselves as dancers, to come up with actual theatre pieces and ideas, rather than just a straight-up breaking show.’ The Jalapeno’s piece, See the Music, Hear the Dance fuses breaking, poppin’ and lockin’, and shows how different sounds relate to parts of the body.
Tony Mills says: ‘Flyin’ Jalapenos are from Glasgow and have been around for about eight years. There are only three of them in See the Music, Hear the Dance, so it’s quite intimate. They’ve been collaborating with a musician who made up a specific piece of music for them, so that’s one of the reasons they’re in the mix.’
Jackin’ The Box
With nine female performers, this recently formed crew was put together by Ashley Jack (formerly of Rhythm Inc) from girls attending her Dance Base hip hop classes. They’ll be exploring ideas around gender and identity with their piece, What’s a Girl to Do, and according to co-choreographer Claricia Kruithof it should raise a smile or two among the show’s audiences.
‘We always like to keep things light-hearted,’ she says, ‘so it’s simple and funny and uses lots of different styles - some of which people might not expect from us. We’ve been thinking about the 1950s housewife and ideas that we had while we were growing up of the ideal man and woman.’
Tony Mills says: Jackin’ The Box are good dancers who mix streetdance, lockin’, poppin’, house and new jack. They’re also willing to go down a more creative route rather than just presenting nice routines.’
Moving in Circles
The brainchild of Peter Maniam, Moving in Circles is the crew behind Scotland’s largest breakdance competition, Castle Rocks. Their Breakin’ Convention piece, HipHopScotch brings together an unlikely alliance of two breakdancers and two Highland dancers who, in the show, meet at a ceilidh, and is billed as ‘Strip The Willow with back flips and head spins’. Choreographed by the ubiquitous and talented Matt Foster, the work was performed in full at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and has been whittled down to four minutes for the occasion.
Tony Mills says: ‘Peter Maniam is partly responsible for guys like Heavy Smokers and Psycho Stylez because he used to teach a lot around Edinburgh, getting young guys into breaking. With HipHopScotch they wanted to produce a hybrid with breaking and traditional Scottish dancing, to see how those elements complement each other.’
Breakin’ Convention, Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Mon 8 & Tue 9 Nov.