Breakin’ Convention bounces back with reflections on 2020

Sadler’s Wells, London
December 11, 2020

David Mead

Well, that was one I called wrong. At the end of October, just after enjoying Northern Ballet’s Dangerous Liaisons in Leeds, I suspected strongly that I might not get to sit in a theatre and watch live performance again this year. But hurrah because here we all were at Sadler’s Wells for Breakin’ Convention and an evening of ‘Social DisDancing’ as the neat title put it.

Of course, it wasn’t quite the Breakin’ Convention that we all know and love. The evening was cut to just three live pieces, all from British companies, and two films. There was none of the usual pop-up performances and workshops in the foyers and bars. In the auditorium, it was all seated social distancing. None of the usual mass of people standing at the front of the stalls.

But if you want to get people going and ramp up the atmosphere, Jonzi D is your man. Introducing the evening in his unique indomitable style, he made no excuses for the fact that the pieces performed and films screened would show precisely what we have all been going through these past nine months (and to the pandemic and its effects, you can add police brutality, political polarisation and more). But he soon got everyone cheering, even if a little muffled.

One interesting point that transpired during that intro, was that many in the audience were at their first Breakin’ Convention show. Their reaction suggests they might just return.

Marius Mates and Jamaal O'Driscoll pictured at a previous outdoor performance of One%Photo Barry Whitehead
Marius Mates and Jamaal O’Driscoll pictured at a previous outdoor performance of One%
Photo Barry Whitehead

The dance kicked off with Suspended by A.I.M (Artistry. In. Movement) Collective, a London-based female popping collective. Choreographed by Shawn Aimey, it starts with the lights going out, just like they did in March. When they come back on, all is dimly lit, the five dancers physicalising the feelings many of us had at that time, and that some still do.

There’s a strong sense of loneliness and isolation. Bodies wobble and shake as they come back to life. Happily, the lights do come back on fully. The cast having exchanged their dark clothes for bright green tops, the energy ramps up, and the playful choreography with its popping and freezing shouts loudly about the joy of dancing together once more.

Introducing One% by Jamaal O’Driscoll of Birmingham-based O’Driscoll Collective, Jonzi D noted how they had “Come all the way from Tier 3. That’s as international as you are going to get this year!”

Originally commissioned by Dance Hub as an outdoor piece for Birmingham Weekender 2019, One% is beautifully cathartic. A powerful exploration of some of the issues found within mental health, it’s a deeply thoughtful evocation of the human condition.

Marius Mates is initially full of intensity and despair in a dance of inner torment. He charges at and is blocked by O’Driscoll, who at other times just stands and watches. As the two increasingly come together and move towards a synergy, there are any number of striking moments. Huge flares, usually done at speed, happen almost in slow motion, and with suspensions at their crest. The control is outstanding.

You can’t have Breakin’ Convention without Boy Blue Entertainment and the honour of closing the show falls to them. Untethered 3.0 by Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy is a socially distanced group piece and a further development of the original solo piece, Untethered.

It takes us back to lockdown. Beams of lighting suggests walls. There’s a sense of fighting, of releasing emotion and energy, as the dancers move in sharp bursts. It’s full of cleverly shifting formations and patterns, so clever that it’s a while before you realise it is socially distanced pretty much throughout. While Untethered 3.0 may lack some of the emotional intensity of Suspended and One%, it does leave you breathless; the dancers too, as we hear in the final blackout.

Bolegue Manuela (B-Girl Manuela) in a moment from Our Bodies Back
Bolegue Manuela (B-Girl Manuela)
in a moment from Our Bodies Back

There three live pieces are separated by two films. Can’t Kill Us All by Botis Seva (produced by Far From The Norm; directed and edited by Ben Williams) shows the choreographer unravelling as he tries to deal with lockdown life, flipping around childhood memories, Black trauma and more. Best are the still moments, his face empty, his eyes staring, his mind full of incomprehension.

Our Bodies Back by Jonzi D (also edited by Ben Williams) sets the work of American poet and performance artist Jessica Care Moore with dance by Nafisah Baba in London, Axelle ‘Ebony’ Munezero in Montréal, and Bolegue Manuela (b-girl Manuela) in Hannover.

With sound design by Soweto Kinch and to Moore’s own narration, The riveting film is a powerful rendering of Black women’s voices against racism, misogynoir (misogyny directed towards black women) and sexual violence. Simultaneously, there’s a powerful sense of pride running through it. A true coming together of spoken word and dance, I actually found it rather uplifting.

Breakin’ Convention: Social DisDancing is at Sadler’s Wells to Sunday December 12, 2020. For more information, visit

Breakin’ Convention 2021 is scheduled for Sadler’s Wells on May 1 & 2, 2021.