Despite its title refuting it fiercely, hip-hop theatre festival ‘Breakin’ Convention’ seems to have become somewhat of a convention itself, returning to the stage for the fourteenth time in as many years. In that time it has become a highly anticipated event in Edinburgh and other tour destinations, and continues to attract some of the best hip-hop and break-dancing performers from across the globe, this year drawing in dancers from as far-afield as Canada and South-Korea. But despite its global prowess, the festival sticks close to its ethos of inspiring new and up-coming generations of dancers, providing an opportunity to showcase talent from the communities closer to home.
It was the emphasis on encouragement and inclusivity that stood out as one of the greatest achievements of the festival, with diversity celebrated at every opportunity, and people of a wide range of ages and nationalities represented. Before the performance, and during the interval, children from local hip-hop dance groups performed routines and free-style dancing on the first floor landing of the theatre, with the encouragement of the professionals who joined in to demonstrate their moves. There was a real atmosphere of excitement and enthusiasm from all involved in the staging of the show, which was infectious and set the evening up to be a celebration of talent and community.
The stand-out performance of the evening came from South Korean group ‘Just Dance’, whose spectacle might as very well been named ‘Breakin’ Conventional Science’ for the tricks it involved, which had to be seen to be believed. The dancers’ movements were, I am entirely certain, despite having been shown the contrary throughout the performance – impossible by all laws of physics, and had their dancing not been so captivating, I would have spent a long time searching for wires that allowed them to balance in absolute defiance of gravity. Even being part of the audience was an initiation into the world of dance: every time a move on stage was particularly anatomy-defying, a collective gasp went up around the theatre and entire rows of seats moved as one, rising to make sure that the stunts were not merely illusions. Dancers spun on their heads for enough time that the audience’s united intake of breath turned into two, and then three, with their heads shaking side to side as though they too were trying to emulate the sensation of becoming human spinning tops. The technicality and ambitious choreography was exhilarating, and as the final act of the evening, the group were certainly a show-stopper.
The dynamic power of the ‘Just Dance’ troupe was only one facet of the show, however, and other acts brought different elements of dance theatre to the festival. ‘Tentacle Tribe’, a dance company based in Montreal, took the audience on a different journey through a graceful and less ‘showy’ form of break-dancing. Their style was almost balletic, with the piece they performed demonstrating a slow and yet evocative style whilst telling an exceptionally clear story. Other groups incorporated alternative art forms (to various successes), with one act featuring an artist painting while being danced around (unfortunately my friend and I enjoyed it less than the others). The quality of the dancing was high from all of the acts, and seeing the youth groups perform alongside the professionals was a window into both the initial spark and the end result of the process, somehow all brought together on one stage.
The evening was slightly tainted (though perhaps only in my own opinion) by the MCs who took rather a lot of stage time with relatively little to say. Each time they appeared, the fascination and enjoyment that the dancers had drummed up in the audience seemed to sink a little, turned off by the faux-pally interactions with the crowd and the increasingly annoying demands for Edinburgh to “Make some noise if you’re out there!”. Maybe I’m just cynical, but the overly-pumped, joke-cracking presenters didn’t take long to become draining, especially when the acts were being unnecessarily shelved for what felt like a duration of exhausting and expendable hype.
Overall, however, this was an enjoyable and exciting evening, celebrating the talent of both local enthusiasts and global professionals, and their shared passion. Although it medicdrugstore2015.com wasn’t exceptionally glamorous, there was a strong sense of community and support which made all of the acts impressive in their own way. By the end, I had a strong urge to watch a string of YouTube tutorials to learn to spin on my head. Maybe this time next year, I’ll be defying gravity and breaking conventions too.