Unbreakable by the Soweto Skeleton Movers

Presented by Breakin’ Convention at The Place, London
April 12, 2023

It will probably be a first encounter with the combination of Pantsula dance, Afro-house and Skeleton dance styles for many, but this was, by any standards, a mesmerising performance.

Introducing what was the world premiere of Unbreakable, director Jonzi D explained that he had spotted the Skeleton Movers busking on the streets of Soweto, and determined to bring them to a wider audience. As part of the celebrations of 20 years of Breakin’ Convention, he’s now brought them to London with this brand-new show. He also noted that Unbreakable is the group’s first attempt at a longer piece (it runs about an hour), and one that also endeavours to tell powerful stories.

There is no doubting the talent, skill and commitment of the five superb dancers: Topollo Ntulo, Jabulani Manyoni, Junior Hlongwane, Molefi Rakitia, and Lerato Motsepe. They pour their hearts and souls into the piece. This alone would keep you watching, but add to that the exuberant foot work and the physically-defying acro-contortions, and you simply can’t take your eyes off them.

Soweto Skeleton Movers in Unbreakable
Photo Owen Ling

Jonzi D’s direction is tight, and keeps the piece moving with pace and elan, skilfully mixing-in video and voice to add to the overall effect. Unfortunately, the lighting design doesn’t match. Where it could have added significantly to the emotion and atmosphere, it remained very ordinary and uninspiring.

I found the chorography, by Lloyds Company, less secure. Given that the piece is a fusion of dance styles – acrobatics, contortionism, and hat tricks (literally tricks with hats) – the movement repertoire seemed rather limited, and, as a result, over the hour, became rather repetitive. The set-piece movements, mainly acro-contortions, were endlessly repeated, which detracted from their impact; and the sheer magic of the hat tricks lost my attention when they were repeated for the third, fourth and fifth time.

The dancers’ elegance and grace were ably demonstrated in their solo dances, though. Perhaps the effort to fill one hour is too much, and a shorter piece, or even a double bill of two short and different works might have fared better.

Fuller programme notes would also have been helpful. There were moments when members of the audience reacted to, and joined-in with, the dancers, clearly recognising something in their movement sequence, and voice/song, that I couldn’t capture. A little more information about Soweto, which most will have heard of but few experienced, might also have enhanced the enjoyment. But that didn’t detract from a thoroughly engaging evening. I strongly recommend that you catch The Soweto Skeleton Movers should they come anywhere near you.