Update browser for a secure Minnesota Orchestra experience

It looks like you may be using a web browser version that we don't support. Make sure you're using the most recent version of your browser, or try using of these supported browsers, to get the full Minnesota Orchestra experience: Chrome, Firefox, Safari, or Edge.

Meet the Musicians

Meet BRKFST Dance Company

A black-and-white photo compilation of BRKFST Dance Company members BRKFST Dance Company members Lisa ‘MonaLisa’ Berman, Joseph ‘MN Joe’ Tran, Renée Copeland, Travis ‘Seqal’ Johnson, Marie Thayer and<br />
Azaria Parham-Evans.
BRKFST Dance Company members Lisa ‘MonaLisa’ Berman, Joseph ‘MN Joe’ Tran, Renée Copeland, Travis ‘Seqal’ Johnson, Marie Thayer and
Azaria Parham-Evans | Photos by Adam Adolphus

Since 1980, when the Minnesota Orchestra began presenting an annual summer festival, it has named numerous summer Artists in Residence, from instrumentalists to singers to composers. This summer brings a first: the Artist in Residence is a collective of dancers, BRKFST Dance Company, which brings the art of breaking to the stage a summer after they first collaborated with the Orchestra in original choreography to Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge. The company answered a few questions in advance of their summer in the spotlight.

 How did BRKFST Dance Company get its start?

BRKFST Dance Company formed in 2014 when a group of six friends who had built relationships over decades through the breaking scene came together. The original members, Lisa ‘MonaLisa’ Berman, Joseph ‘MN Joe’ Tran, Renée Copeland, Wealthy Phonseya, Cheng ‘Technica’ Xiong and Travis ‘Seqal’ Johnson, encountered each other in breaking competitions and clubs where they would try to out-do each other in dance battles. After 20 years of battling against each other, rivalries evolved into friendships and we came together to represent and uplift our individual styles. Suffice to say, many of us have had our fair share of competitions, and we are now striving to model longevity and sustainability within the dance form through performance and concert dance.

How has the company’s partnership evolved during BRKFST’s first decade?

BRKFST is actually more akin to a “crew” than a “company.” In breaking, a crew forms after sharing the highs and lows of the dance with your peers. When you are in a crew, you are expected to be loyal, trusting and unabashedly proud of what your crew represents. BRKFST celebrates the individuality of each member and the lessons we learn from breaking and hip-hop inform our performances. While some of the original members have left, our recruitment of new members Marie Thayer and Azaria Parham-Evans relies on the same steady build of trust over time through mentorship and real world experience.

What is breaking, and how is it different from other types of dance and movement?

Traditionally, breaking is defined by the movement elements from Top Rock, Go Downs, Footwork, Power and Freezes, with an emphasis on the Footwork category. Footwork is when a breaker is dancing on all fours creating intricate patterns. Prior to breaking, these dynamic movements were not really being done, and it is arguably the most important element of our dance.

Breaking prioritizes individuality over homogenization, and the majority of breakers are self-taught. In the 1970s, a breaker had to perform their own moves to stand out—and eventually, these discoveries were passed down. After learning a new move, breakers are required to “flip it” (add their own twist to it). The value of originality is still sacred to this day, so the dance is in constant evolution as knowledge is passed down. Over time, new moves become foundation, and as long as breakers flip them, they are creating one of the most contemporary dances of our lifetime. These values and qualities are what distinguish breaking from other dance forms.

Can you explain why “breaking” is the correct term for the art form, rather than “break dancing”?

The term “break dancing” was used to describe the movement by the general media and corporate conglomerates in the early ’80s. These organizations ultimately exploited and appropriated the dance form, ignoring any cultural or historical significance to its origins. Thus, “break dancing” is associated with negative connotations. Historically, breaking is danced to the “break” in the music. However, it also represents a broader sense of self, identity and creativity. To those who practice the dance, breaking is the appropriate term.

Tell us a bit about the choreography you’re planning to go with the Orchestra’s July 21 and 22 performances of Daniel Bernard Roumain’s Dancers, Dreamers and Presidents.

In the creation of this piece, we are exploring our childhood dreams, aspirations as adults and the general hardships of life. To us, this composition is filled with hope, despair, joy, sadness and love. It is such a dynamic composition, and we hope to do it justice!

BRKFST will utilize partnering and “signature moves” (original movement dancers are known for) within our choreography. Typically, these moves are not taught to others verbatim, since it is generally frowned upon to copy signature moves. What makes BRKFST special is that we openly share our signature moves in order to push our choreography and partnering even further—giving us a unique aesthetic. Broadly speaking, our work is being created for not only breakers, but to all underground dancers and artists who are often underrepresented on the theater stage. And we want to be a voice and model for all those who value collaboration, negotiation and creative ingenuity.

What else is upcoming for BRKFST?

BRKFST will be touring to Des Moines Symphony on April 13 and 14, 2024, performing our original choreography to Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge, Opus 133, and a world premiere to Romeo and Juliet’s “Death of Tybalt.” We will also be celebrating our 10-year anniversary with a world premiere at The Cowles Center in collaboration with Northrop on April 27 and 28, 2024.

BRKFST Dance company will perform at the Minnesota Orchestra’s July 21 and 22 Stravinsky’s Firebird concerts and prior to the July 25 Music & Healing concert, and will curate an outdoor Music in Motion Stage at the July 15 International Day of Music. Learn more about BRKFST Dance Company at brkfstdance.com.