Street dance is vibrant and brimming with talent in Vancouver. And on June 3 and 4, Project Soul, with Artistic Director Kim Sato, brought street dance to the stage at the Orpheum Annex Theatre for Into the Tao.
On opening night, when the lights dimmed, the house broke into applause, shouting in excitement. This energetic participation continued throughout the show, both as encouragement for the dancers and joyful exclamation at the unfolding dancing.
Into the Tao is a journey into a street dancer’s mind and the psychology of going into a dance battle. In this project, Sato explores the reasons why street dancers put themselves through battles, when it can be incredibly stressful and physically demanding.
In a dance battle, Sato says to me in an interview the week of the show, “You really are putting yourself out there, really raw for the public to see, without knowing how it’s going to turn out.” The Vancouver-based choreographer has recently retired from battles herself but has been at the centre of the street dance scene in Vancouver for over twenty years and has mentored countless dancers. She currently directs both the professional company Project Soul and the hip hop training company SOULdiers.
Into the Tao featured eight of Vancouver’s most talented street dancers: Victor Tran, Jackie Agudo, Thaiyo Seo, Sevrin Emnacen-Boyd, Momoko Shimada, Bryce Koebel, Jada Powell and Joshua Ongcol. During the performance they battled, freestyled and danced their hearts out to genuinely win the audience over, without a doubt earning their standing ovation.
The choreography transitioned between intimate moments with each individual dancer in a column of light, wrestling with the inner emotions of pre-battle nerves and mental preparation, to larger sections of group choreography and solo freestyling. The dancers’ specific styles and strengths shone through, ranging from hip hop to waacking, breaking and popping. The movement narrative explored the hype of the battle, the doubt, the loss and the success that street dancers experience.
The music was an awesome combination of live taiko drumming by Naomi Kajiwara and DJ scratching by Eric Cardeno. The conversation between an ancient form of percussion and DJ vinyl scrubbing with recorded sounds became a kind of battle in itself, full of back-and-forth play and moments of head-bobbing brilliance.
Throughout the entire show, I noticed, the audience was moving — responding to the music, laughing and cheering. The show was interactive and entertaining from start to finish. Though conceptually strong, the overwhelming success of Into the Tao was that it brought to the stage the incredible talents of street dancers who the public doesn’t often have the opportunity to see.
In its nature, street dance doesn’t live on the stage — it thrives outside in the city through jams and social gatherings for dancers. Sato explains that though street dance has grown in Vancouver, at the moment there aren’t enough venues for these talented young dancers to express their art.
“We’re losing a lot of our major jams,” says Sato. “A lot of people are just training and training and training and training with nowhere to actually express [that] to the public. It’s kind of a sad thing. So they have to go out of town for it.”
However, Into the Tao has shown us that street dance, though freestyle-oriented, competes choreographically with other major dance genres performed in Vancouver. Particularly in the group sections, the choreography showed clarity and ingenuity with regard to its use of music, formations and shifts in energy.
The press release boasts that Into the Tao represents the “next chapter” for Project Soul, which is branching out from the youth market and the BC school system. The company is tackling new concepts, discovering the intentions behind what they do and bringing that to the stage. Sato’s collaboration with Vancouver-based dance artist and actor Heather Laura Gray as choreographic consultant in the show enriched the process, allowing her to ask questions and experiment freely.
“This definitely is an expansion for us, pushing the limits of our art,” Sato says.