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Hip-hop going beyond convention with Jonzi D

LEADING THE PACK: Jonzi D

JONZI D has spent a lifetime changing attitudes towards hip-hop, dance and a combination of the two, whether he admits it or not, and next week, fans of the culture get the opportunity to
see his work at close quarters.

Perceptions surrounding hip-hop dance culture were in a bad place when Jonzi decided to partner with Sadler’s Wells as artistic director – a move that led to the birth of Breakin’ Convention which kicks off next week.

The landscape today is very different to when he started his journey. In particular hip-hop theatre is widely received on a multi-generational level the type of utopia few imagine would be possible.

“I would say that it (Breakin’ Convention) has definitely opened the culture up – I think it has demystified the culture and I think it has challenged the media portrayal that has plagued hip-hop for many years with this violent, criminal approach. Anyone that is involved with hip-hop knows that that is completely not what hip-hop is based upon,” he said.

“Hip-hop is based upon peace, love, unity and having fun, and the chance for young people to have value.” For the uninitiated, the Breakin’ Convention organisers work with the most respected, innovative and inspirational artists.

The organisers seek to position hip-hop dance alongside more historically established art forms, through their world-renowned international festivals, professional development, youth projects and educational programme.

There is no doubting the good works and impact Breakin’ Convention has had on the culture in the UK and the tour opening weekend is fast selling out with the venue used to accommodating a full house during the three-day event.

Jonzi, a dancer, spoken word artist and director, has worked hard over the past two decades in reaching this point – but has Breakin’ Convention broken new ground? “Yes, we’ve broken new ground,” Jonzi enthused. “If we look at history and look at the old dance forms, particularly in America, like tap dance, they used to call that n***** music.

“Tap dancing to the old jazz was seen as something the n****** would do. “Now you look at any modern Broadway theatre, you will see that jazz dance and tap dance is basically the mainstay of commercial theatre.

“I don’t see classical ballet as the mainstay of commercial theatre. So if we have any sense of history, it’s quite clear that this cultural phenomenon of dance is going to become a theatrical vehicle.” Jonzi, pictured right, admits he didn’t always see the culture becoming as potent as it is today.

He explained: “I remember when hip-hop was first beginning to come up and I felt like it wasn’t for everybody. “I felt it was only for certain people who could tread on this particular journey and I felt the same about rap music at the time as well.

“Even in spite of its burgeoning commercial success, I didn’t think it would last the distance.”

Pleasantly surprised that it has come as far as it has in 2017 and looking forward to this year’s Breakin’ Convention event, Jonzi said: “I didn’t expect this to last as long – I thought if we did one, that would be something we’d remember for the rest of my life.

“I would have been happy at the time if we’d done one and it had come off successfully. Now the agenda has changed – we’ve realised that this is a valuable idea. There are a lot of things that are creating a divide in society. I’m very proud of this event, because it contradicts that.

“We have everybody in the building, multiple ethnicities. Every religion, every sexual orientation, everybody comes to Breakin’ Convention and is welcomed there. This festival has the most female choreographers presenting their work. We’ve had disabled B-Boys doing their thing at Breakin’ Convention, killing it, not as disabled B-Boys, but as dancers who are killing it.

“Breakin’ Convention answers a lot of the questions that people are asking: how do we get more diverse people in the building? To even hear that being presented as something that is difficult to do is a problem for me, because we have proven it is easy to do.”

Check out a clip from our interview with Jonzi D below:

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