After a delay of fourteen months because of you-know-what, the breakaway brand of Breakin’ Convention Presents finally got to showcase The Ruggeds, an impressive group of breakers from the Netherlands. Their Between Us show was 75 minutes’ of largely hi-energy athleticism, loosely framed around a domestic narrative set in and around a stacked deck of bedrooms. The muscular activity on the tubular bars that horizontally divided this human-sized shelving unit lent an air of Olympic Gymnastics to some of the routines and I wondered whether the Tokyo Olympians could put on a theatre show to rival this one! The Olympic analogy is not so fanciful when one reads that The Ruggeds intend to be the first Gold Medallists when breaking hits the Paris Olympics in 2024.
The group of nine (although only six appeared in the show) have been together since forming childhood bonds on the streets of Eindhoven, growing up to win more than 200 international breaking titles collectively, including the ultimate accolade as world champions at the Bboy championships of 2014; and – a year later – they began the process of taking their battles into the theatre, starting with a cut-down performance of Adrenaline at Sadler’s Wells’ Breakin’ Convention, since when their rapid global ascendancy has taken a covid rain check.
The “At Home” invite for Between Us showcased the striking individuality of the six guys but also their tight and harmonious bonds and the best of the show came either in explosive individualism, not just in extreme Bboy skills but also in world class acrobatics, as well as tightly-coordinated uniformity of movement, which was always right at the edge of the plausible. There was a strong emphasis on ‘footography’ with several sequences of fast intricate movements of ten or twelve feet somehow managing to just miss each other in complex drills of rapid interaction.
Other areas of close synchronisation included rapid backflips and coordinated butterfly jumps and a unique (for me, at any rate) sequence where the elevated rapid feet moved between four of the crew while performing Bboy headstands and spins. A comatose crew member was tossed around his “flatmates” with the subject remaining rigid as his head almost whacked the floor on several occasions. These are performers who relish the challenge of extreme risk and there were, in consequence, several breath-taking moments of excitement. This is very much a closely-coordinated team effort in which every member has to nail their performance with absolute precision to avoid injuring themselves or a mate. Two of the crew had a special charisma that set them apart as personalities: the tousle-haired, bespectacled (how on earth do they stay on?) and bookish persona of Roy Overdijk; and the devil-may-care strength of Niek Traa.
In a theatrical sense, the extreme skills were also the show’s downside since they were inevitably highlights that punctuated, rather than peppered, the show and this brought the potential for lulls between those explosive heights. The show attempted to cover that with various riffs on the joys of flat-sharing but these interludes were invariably uncompelling and the intended comedy sometimes fell flat. I found my mind drifting until it was snatched back by the next outrageous combination of skills. Inevitably it was the competitive resonance with street battles that brought out the highest level of technical ability.
Although they have been in the competitive Bboy world for years, The Ruggeds are relative newcomers to the world of Breakin’ Theatre (which, nowadays, is closely adjacent to the excitement of circus theatre) and Between Us is just their second show. They have already hit the commercial mainstream by working with such stars as Madonna, Rita Ora and Justin Bieber and their slick professionalism, both individually and as a tightknit group, marks them out as an ensemble to watch whether for future shows or that Olympic Gold Medal!