by Lew Whittington for The Dance Journal | photo credit Frank Bicking
Kyle and Dinita Clark are former dancers who met while they studied at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. They are now married and co-choreographers and directors of Just Sole! Street Dance Theater, an eight-member troupe that has emerging as one of Philly’s most dynamic new companies. At the Suzanne Roberts Theater last weekend, they unveiled their ambitious production “The Life of A Just Sole” described as a ‘physical autobiography in hip-hop dance styles.’
In his introductory remarks, Clark told the audience that the umbrella term of ‘hip-hop’ reflects a broad cultural community of musicians, DJs, clubs, graffiti artists, poets, dancers and choreographers, distinct, he notes, from corporate ‘hip-hop’ commercialization.
Between the five Just Sole dance works on the program, Clark is onstage, humorously narrating his dance artistic journey that started in Baltimore, a reluctant 10 year old piano student, tutored by his grandmother, who noticed that her grandson would rather be outside playing baseball or basketball. She suggested to him maybe he would like tap dance class, he jumped at the chance.
Fast forward to his dance training in Philly at the University of the Arts where he was introduced to other styles including he said the dreaded 8:30 ballet class. “I was a ballet student by day… and house dancer at night.” His early years are depicted in his full company piece “Another World” (2014) set to Nina Simone’s vocal “See-Line Woman” which has a pulsing rhythmic soundfield that drives the choreography. It’s his affectionate look at a dancers’ world of class, choreography, techniques and endless rehearsals until, of course, it’s also about backstage romance, competition and camaraderie.
Clark gives his ensemble pieces a strong sense of narrative arc, punctuated with flowing transitional phrasing and ensemble esprit. There elements are on the front burner in “A Man’s Plight” set to music by James Brown. Lead dancer David Castro displaying every emotion in an otherwise joyous celebration of Brown’s music ‘Payback’, ‘Superbad’ and “This Is A Man’s World” with slides, splits and hairpin turns and some nods 60s social dancing. The Sole men showing their most muscled, funkiest moves and Tiffany Ashton leading the quartet of women, in red fringe show minis that stop them in their tracks with sizzling 60s girl group choreography.
“Club Life” (2014) for six dancers is set to “Do It In Church” by Afrikan Roots and is a celebration of ‘House Dancing’ which the Clarks explored in the after hours Philly clubs that was incorporated hip-hop idioms and other forms like salsa, disco, funk and vogue and is very much an expansive choreographic template for their company.
Two entr’acts between the larger dance pieces brought on hip-hop legends from the New York clubs. First the duo UnOrtholockX- Firelock & Hurrikane- for a demonstration of old-school pop and lock, spidery floorwork and breakout acrobatics. They were followed by hip-hop and ‘house’ innovators Sekou Heru & Tony McGregor, who established Dance Fusion NYC and even though they were pretending like they were too old for performance, they took turns showing off some indelible moves.
During the second half DJ Foxx Boogie spins the tracks for an Exhibition Battle dance challenge. First Philly’s own B-boy legend Ynot gives a tutorial on his explosive twister style (distinct from breakdancers, Clark reminds). Then breakdancers Hannibal and (fusionist) Heat Rock, each hurling and dance jousting with their bodies. Although Hannibal’s inversion layouts momentarily gave him the slight edge, this was a decisive dual win according to the audience reception.
Back to that 8:30 ballet class, “Who Am I” (2013) co-choreographed by the Clarks, Marcus Branch plays the dancer unable to get out of bed and instead sinks back to sleep and for a trippy dream ballet of dancers sweeping across the stage in ever dizzying patterns to the infectious music of K-O, Dazzler and Boddhi Satva. This humorous flash back wowed the crowd at two years ago at the Come Together Festival and it has the look like a signature piece for Just Sole.
The finale piece “I Am The Road” also from 2013 piece co-choreographed by the Clarks was first performed at UArts and in 2015 set on Ailey II. A full company ballet with themes of spiritual awakening and community strength set to a series of inspirational contemporary tracks. Kingsley Ibenech and Jazmin Gilbert are the lead partners in a series of electrifying duets. .