By Sofia Tomic (All.So.Visuals)
Last weekend, the very well established organization 'Breakin’ Convention' ran their yearly edition of Back To The Lab, a platform allowing various artists to present new works in progress. After being offered two weeks of training and mentorship, the artists were able to get feedback from a live audience and find out how their work could be taken further and understood better. This year, Breakin’ Convention gave the opportunity to four choreographers to share their work.
The evening started with B-Girl Ambush’s act, accompanied by dancers Elise Antonia and Will Timpson. The performance began with a clear separation between Ambush and the two other dancers, as she stood alone in a white spotlight to stage left, while Elise and Will both sit intertwined in a purple light to stage right. As they gradually start moving individually, both dancers make their way to Ambush, leading to an interesting section of them controlling her and influencing her as she tries to make her way out of their grip. With precise musicality and an escalating intensity, the trio creates what seems like an endless chase for Ambush, who finds herself imprisoned in what is now a purple square of light in center stage, calling back to the lights associated with Elise and Will at the very start of the performance. However, Ambush seems to finally get away from her dancers’ restraint in the last third of the act, as the roles also seem to invert. Not only is she becoming free of her movements, but her voice suddenly resonates in the space explaining her journey to acceptance of her body. We finally understand Elise and Will’s roles as the bad influence. Ambush explained later on in her feedback session that their specific roles were representing eating disorders. The piece eventually ends as her voice fades in the space. 

With an interesting and personal topic, Ambush manages to interpret the healing process she went through efficiently. All the different stages of the performance represent clearly the journey she lived, from the moment the disorder (here represented by her dancers) started to control her until the moment she realises she needs to let go of it. The use of color code and different spotlight shapes emphasised the state Ambush found herself in and linked her to her dancers representing her disorders. However, the final spoken words lead us to a more open interpretation of body image, and might have made the piece less specific to eating disorders. Perhaps due to this, the audience expressed many interpretations during the feedback session.
It might be an interesting idea to implement a less linear storyline, which would potentially be seen as more risk-taking and would show considerable progress of her idea. As she tells her story in her own style accompanied by two wonderful dancers, the piece offers a real opportunity for development. We hope to see more of the vulnerability and personality expressed by Ambush while she explained her work to the audience.
The second piece presented during the evening was choreographed by Justin De Jager, an artist from the Netherlands. Performing by himself, it would be a lie to say his movements did not mesmerize us. As a cold light fills the stage, Justin begins his piece laying on the floor, wearing a simple costume exposing his upper body and legs to the audience which creates an interesting contrast that matches the atmosphere of the lights. Slowly, he starts repeating circular patterns on the floor with various body parts such as his elbow or head. After a moment, the music seems to intensify and Justin’s limbs suddenly appear to be linked to each other. He gradually starts to utilise the technique of threading to break free. This technique originates from Breaking and consists of creating an opening with body parts as one of the limbs threads through it. The piece develops into threads that are more and more complicated and almost creates confusion in the spectator’s brain. As the light becomes brighter, he progressively makes his way to a standing position focusing his threads to his arms and head. Justin’s performance slowly arrives to its climax when his limbs regularly starts to untie themselves. The performance ends as the music quiet downs and Justin faces the audience, his arms creating a loop right in front of him. He stares around the room and his hands eventually open up to unlink before the room goes dark. 

It would be an understatement to say Justin held everyone’s attention throughout his performance. Even more so considering that he choreographed it without any storyline and his only was purpose to play and explore with the concept of threading. However, the sense that the movement progresses through the space undeniably gives an efficient structure to the piece, leaving the audience to a pleasantly open interpretation of the performance. The lights were kept simple throughout the act, and it would be interesting to explore with more detail how the light could be used to create various optical illusions to blend with the threading. Furthermore, the extension of the piece might benefit from a narrative and would potentially allow Justin’s exploration to take another direction and engage with the audience even more intensely. This piece has strong and captivating foundation and we are looking forward to see Justin perform his on the stage again during the Breakin’ Convention festival in April, for which he will be accompanied by more dancers.
Back to the Lab then welcomed its third piece of the evening, presented by Chantelle Dawn. In duet with Shanika Wallace, both performers presented a powerful act around the topic of past and present self. Representing an older version of herself, Chantelle appears upstage left and introduces us to her story with a captivating solo, in which she seems to represent anger and pain in her movements. She then travels slowly downstage and is joined by Shanika who was standing and watching Chantelle until then. They engage in synchronized movements, as Shanika follows Chantelle like a shadow. This is the first clue that leads us to think they are the same person. The piece continues as Chantelle leaves the stage and Shanika finds herself lit by a spotlight upstage left which creates a shadow three time her size on the back wall of the stage. In this moment, it is clear that no matter who she is representing now, Shanika lives with a past, represented by her shadow. As her solo continues, the shadow disappears and Chantelle comes back downstage right and performs another strong, angry and painful solo as Shanika comes behind her to hug her, as a reassuring character. Chantelle slows down her movement, but as soon as Shanika leaves the stage, the powerful solo starts again as she starts traveling to the upstage left. This time, the spotlight shines to create Chantelle’s shadow. Shanika comes back on stage and both start exchanging movements until Shanika calms Chantelle down, hugs her and allow her to lay down with her head on her lap, finishing the piece on a impactful image.
With a smart use of lights and space, both Chantelle and Shanika allowed us to witness a captivating and well-performed story. The mix of energy and complicity between them was truly entertaining. The music chosen also suited nicely the act and the movement. However, as much as the idea of creating a double of herself is very interesting, the concept could potentially be clarified in the future, for example with the use of more synchronised moments to introduce the performers. On the other hand, the audience still needs to understand that even if they are the same person, they do not have the same mindset and the future one (here represented by Shanika) is supposed to be more mature. The challenge now for Chantelle is to be able to balance between making the spectator understand that her partner is the same person but that their growth and mind are not at the same stage. Maybe a different color code for each performer could help, as the use of light has been very important throughout the piece. It is understandable that the limitations of time did not allow them to explore different lighting options, but it could definitely be an interesting tool to experiment during the future progress of the piece. Chantelle presents a forceful act and with Shanika by her side, both of them form an incredibly cohesive and hypnotic duet. The idea is very strong and Chantelle definitely has the tools to make even more interesting choices with her work, in an hopefully extended version.
Lastly, the evening closed with the performance of Leozin Leonardo, coming from Brazil. As a few red/orange spotlights light the space from the back, Leozin enters upstage left under a cold light coming from the side, wearing a white robe tied on one of his shoulder. He starts traveling across the space, showcasing impressive athleticism, going from standing positions to the floor in a matter of split seconds. The music is centered around e a very strong bass that resonates inside the audience’s bodies. As the piece goes on the music goes louder and builds the tension. Leozin holds everyone’s attention with his presence on stage and we almost feel that what is happening is a ceremony or some sort of ritual, as was mentioned by an audience member during the feedback session. Whilst his journey across the space continues, he takes off his robe and uses it to cover his head many times until the act’s end.

With a powerful presence and performance, Leozin has managed not only to impress the audience but also to welcome it into his world, in which eyes could not be turned away from him. Without any context, his movements have managed to draw everyone into his intriguing story. During the feedback process, Leozin mentioned he used images as a reference and tried to interpret them in different ways, touching on the theme of perception. As much as the performance is captivating visually and seems to want the spectator to have an open interpretation, it would be interesting in the future to have a visual of those pictures, maybe as a projection in the space, to help the audience with more context to dive into Leozin’s mind and understand the true meaning of his piece. He showcased a very unique performance and created a very fascinating atmosphere on stage, which we hope to have a deeper insight for in the future. 

The 'Back to the Lab' platform definitely presented us with an entertaining evening, with very interesting works in progress that we look forward to hopefully seeing again. Although engaging as a live concept, the feedback could potentially also present itself in other ways, such as a platform (accessible via a QR code) that would permit written feedback anonymously for each piece. This would aid audience members that would feel less comfortable speaking in a microphone and giving their opinion in front of everyone. This way would also allow for a more developed explanation of the feedback, as a word or a short sentence might be less in depth than the artists may need. However, it felt engaging that some members of audience were able to express themselves verbally and to speak directly to the artists, as well as get answers for questions they might have had during the performances.
Breakin’ Convention have created many platforms that have benefited various artists in the past few years and allowed the public to discover or re-discover amazing talents, with this year’s edition being no exception. We are looking forward to their main show in April, as well as their other events coming for the year 2023.
Written by Sofia Tomic (All.So.Visuals)
For The Capsule
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