SonKiss'd Combines Hip-Hop and Contemporary Dance

Local Christian dance troupe pushes boundaries of the medium.

By Adam Castañeda September 5, 2014

SonKiss'd Dance Theater Presents "A Perfect Love Story"
Sept 6 & 7
Houston ARTreach
1930 Scott St. 

Founded in 2012, Sonkiss’d Dance Theater has made a big impact in a short time. The company debuted at the 2012 Dance Houston Festival, and has been a regular on the program each year since. At this year’s festival, Sonkiss’d presented not only the most creative piece of the night, but the most thoughtful and heartfelt.

The company’s Supreme Being began with a powerful male duet of hip-hop and street dance set to live spoken word by poet Olga Hernandez. The duet dissipated, and a painter emerged from behind a canvas and started working at it with bold and purposeful brushstrokes. His work brought the bodies lying in the background to life, each dancer moving in his/her own distinct vocabulary before joining together as an ensemble. This segment was performed to Gungor’s “Beautiful Things,” and as the song faded out, the company stood in a line beside the canvas, and the painter revealed his creation: a big, beautiful, beaming face.  The dance’s message is loud and clear: despite our fallible constitutions, the Creator doesn’t make mistakes.

What I find so intriguing about Sonkiss’d Dance Theater is the fact that I’m intrigued by it. I admire this faith-based organization’s work, but I am not a person of faith. I have found much contemporary Christian dance to be overly contrived, and a bit didactic, but perhaps the appeal of Sonkiss’d is its emphasis on art-making rather than proselytizing through dance. “We don’t push anything down your throat,” says artistic director Christopher Thomas, aka YungChris. “If you’re into the arts, you can feel comfortable around us because we’re not forcing you to believe anything. We’re giving you a storyline, which is always love.”

Love, in fact, forms the core narrative of the company’s latest full-length show, which premieres this weekend at Houston ARTreach. A Perfect Love Story begins with a romance between a man and a woman. This familiar trope, though, is really a stand-in for a much larger commentary. The perfect love story in the title refers to the unique relationship each individual has with the divine. An audience member can either accept the overarching spiritual narrative of the piece, or they can focus on the literal story being presented.

I would also say that a large part of Thomas’s appeal is the style that defines his choreography. Sonkiss’d is a Christian hip-hop crew, but their style defies that easy categorization. Growing up, Thomas was trained in traditional African dance, street dance, and jazz. When he was 21, he dived headfirst into the world of hip-hop, and led a successful performance career on both the commercial and underground sides of the art form. A Perfect Love Story, like other Sonkiss’d concerts, combines hip-hop with contemporary movement. “I’ve always been around contemporary dance,” explains Thomas. “A few of the hip-hop teachers I would train with were also contemporary dancers, so I always knew what it was.” The fusion is now the basis for his company’s repertoire. The company’s free Wednesday night classes at Houston ARTreach (soon to be renamed now that Sonkiss’d has been given the space) reflects their eclectic approach to performance; one week Thomas will lead the class in-house, the next week a company member may teach contemporary technique.

For this weekend’s show, Thomas is easing up on the choreographic reins. Leonard Price, a longtime company dancer of Urban Souls, is setting a new work for the company, as is Christina Gerard, artistic director of KoumanKe’le’ African Dance and Drum Ensemble. (Gerard’s contribution will be a traditional West African piece.) Thomas’s spirit of collaboration also extends to the performers on stage, as his shows incorporate spoken word, live painting, and sometimes live music. “We promote environment and experience,” says Thomas. “Not just a show or a concert. We want the audience to leave not thinking the same, not feeling the same.” Experience is a good word to describe a Sonkiss’d production; not only does a ticket get you into the performance, it also includes a pre-show mixer complete with complimentary bites and beverages.

In short, Sonkiss’d Dance Theater, like its shows, is a company that’s eager to please. “We are not a Sonkiss’d community,” says Thomas. “We are an arts community, and we are here to put on art for the city of Houston. We love people, and we love to entertain.” 

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