Pushing outside the usual boundaries to find true creativity inspires Kim Sato and the street dance collective, Project Soul, as they showcase excerpts from Into the Tao at the 16th annual Vancouver International Dance Festival. The dance festival takes place Feb. 28–Mar. 19 at various venues.
Project Soul aims to inspire as many souls as possible through street dance and this performance will take you through the inner workings of a street dancer during moments of intense battles.
“There’s a lot of pressure in that brief moment of time and I knew why I battled, but I wanted to find out what drove my dancers to battle,” says Sato, 39, artistic director, dancer and choreographer for Project Soul.
Sato, a Vancouver native, says her love for dancing started at the age of four. She already knew she wanted to be a performer and was also a natural at it. Self-taught in various forms of dance, including ballet, jazz, modern, and musical theatre, Sato eventually discovered hip hop at Harbour Dance Centre.
“I discovered it [hip hop] through watching music videos and watching pop culture on TV, and I loved it,” says Sato. “All the cool kids were doing it in the hallways at school!”
As a hip hop dancer, Sato specializes in popping, locking, and breakdancing – as well as various other hip hop genres. With an impressive resume as a dancer and choreographer, in several films and music videos, Sato eventually started her own dance company, SOULdiers, in 2005.
The company trains committed dancers in various hip hop styles for about nine hours a week. Sato says the number of students she has varies every year: from nine to as many as 34.
Where psychology and dance meet
“Into the Tao” explores the mindset of a freestyle street dancer going into a dance battle and the various emotions experienced. The choreographic work also delves into their mental experiences during different phases of the battle.
“I found it interesting to pursue artistically,” says Sato.
Sato, who holds a B.A. in psychology from UBC, says she has always been fascinated by group dynamics and what drives people to make certain decisions.
For anyone not part of the hip hop culture, says Victor Tran, 27, a member of Project Soul, battling emotes as a tribal-feeling.
“It’s like a war is going on, but there is no harm done and the language is universal,” says Tran.
Fostering art and creativity
Project Soul started as a way of transitioning between pieces presented by SOULdiers, says Sato, so dancers would have time to change costumes and get ready for the next act. All the members of Project Soul are colleagues Sato knew through the street dance scene, or were dancers she had battled against.
Eventually, Project Soul was discovered by an elementary school teacher who wanted to have the group come in and teach students how to dance and put on a small production. Later, Project Soul was selected to become a part of ArtStarts in Schools, a non-profit organization that supports artistic endeavors for students. As a result, they have been touring through schools for the past seven years.
Tran says ArtStarts is a good way to encourage students to pursue art and “let them know that it’s okay to be yourself.”
“My parents were okay with me dancing because they saw that it kept me away from gang activities and they saw a [positive] change in me,” says Tran.
Fresh moves and perspectives
Tran, who is currently studying environmental law at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, is also a breakdancing instructor at SOULdiers. As a b-boy (breakdancer), says Tran, battling is an integral part of hip hop culture.
He became interested in hip hop culture when he was 15 and started a petition to have a hip hop class at his high school as an elective. In addition to being a part of Project Soul and SOULdiers, Tran is also a part of the Now or Never crew (N.O.N), one of Vancouver’s longest running dance crews.
“I constantly discover more about myself and I keep growing and evolving. Because in hip hop, you want to stay ‘fresh’ while staying true to yourself at the same time,” says Tran.
Tran describes the members of Project Soul as having a dynamic but easygoing relationship with each other and to him, they are like family.
“We have a lot of creative ideas and energy; and Kim oversees everything,” says Tran. “She’s like the brains behind the master plan and we are like a super crew. Everyone is so humble and hungry to learn more.”
Every member of Project Soul is highly talented in their specialized dance style and Tran says they may be the best in the city.
“I’m always trying to create new art and Project Soul gives me that opportunity,” says Tran. “We want to push the envelope for where street dancing goes and present it in a new light.”
Sato feels that what makes Project Soul unique is they are a diverse group, with many different disciplines, and each individual brings their own strengths.
“I’m very fortunate that everyone loves each other, and they’re excited to be in the same room together,” says Sato. “I would love for us to tour with our work, in Europe or Asia, and connect with more diverse audiences.”
Project Soul will be performing at the Roundhouse Exhibition Hall from Mar. 10–12 (7 p.m.). For more information, please visit www.vidf.ca.