When the annual Breakin’ Convention festival was founded in 2004, its curator and compere Jonzi D had a vision: to develop hip-hop as a form of theatre dance. Six years ago, it was a radical idea. Today, hip-hop dancing has hit the big time on stage and screen – and you can tell from this year’s opening-night lineup. UK crew Status present a well-crafted, witty Alice-in-Wonderland skit that is very reminiscent of the stage show Into the Hoods. There is a set from funky Japanese duo Hilty and Bosch, whose sharply synchronised locking have made them a YouTube hit. And there’s a turn from Akai, 11-year-old winner of reality TV show Got to Dance, who is very talented and – especially in a chest-popping krump sequence – very cute.
The festival’s core strengths are still here – numerous workshops and class acts such as comic Danish robot dancers Big City Brains and French technicians Phase T – but these are signs that Breakin’ Convention is a less singular sensation than it once was. It seems to have given Jonzi D more space to focus on his founding vision. Three times he warned that the default audience response (whoop when you can) wouldn’t work: with Dance Offensive’s hit-and-miss portraits of adolescent angst, with Marso Riviere’s haunting representation of his own body as a kind of ectoplasm; and best of all, with German company Renegade’s feral scenes of alley-cat loners. It’s experiments such as these, which break with convention in order to explore the stage, that keep the festival ahead of the game.