For three days each spring, the Breakin’ Convention festival turns Sadler’s Wells into a hip-hop hive, every foyer, studio and auditorium abuzz with workshops and shows. Typically, the programme touches three bases: mainstream hip-hop, its history and more experimental work. On the evening I went, the French Vagabond Crew topped the mainstream strand, their nine accomplished dancers bucking on their hands like upended broncos, flipping like landed fish and performing superhuman somersaults in choreography that crackled with wit. Close on their heels came Pro Phenomen (also French), who played smart games with intricate step sequences. Two youthful groups were also impressive: Unity UK melded explosive energy with spot-on synchronicity, while ZooNation Youth Company presented its talent in refreshingly lyrical choreography.
The retro slot came from California trio P-T 3000, but their projected images (figures in gold hairnets and white suits) and lounge-like set never quite gelled with their “strutting” style, interlocking caterpillar moves and rhythmic gestures. It was good to see a lot of experimental work, but not all of it was successful. The best seemed inspired by the music. Jazzy drum and saxophone riffs breathed a freeform spirit into Finnish B-Boy Ata’s tumbles and backspins; Botis Seva caught the spikes and tremors of a drumbeat to evoke a heart condition; and Gemini, using Spanish guitar music, combined the look of Michael Jackson, the sound of flamenco and the attitude of a spaghetti western.
The most arresting act of the evening was the otherworldly Storyboard P. With a gold choker round his neck, he floated on flexible ankles, arms rippling like Pavlova’s swan, fingers a-tremble, chest soaring to inspirational songs by the likes of Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye – an androgynous, gilded spirit in the body of a bird with the soul of an angel. Totally unclassifiable; totally watchable.