K-pop Artist KAI and His Different Dimensions of Dance in His Solo Debut
As dance is his first memory, K-pop artist KAI articulates meaning through his origin of dance— ballet and jazz while exploring other styles of dance.
Kai is a well rounded dancer. He learned jazz and ballet since he was little. It is safe to say dance is his second language where he is as fluent as his first. With his experience in dance, he was able to explore other styles. While trying other styles and including them into his debut, he was able to still leave a ballet and jazz touch to his solo.
Ballet is a form of art illustrated by the precise movements of the human body. Among Ballet, there are different types and styles. The two types of ballet is story ballets and pointless ballets. Story ballets focus to illustrate a continuous story with their movements, which includes narrative action and characters. If you recall going to see The Nut Cracker as a child, that is story ballet. Whereas pointless ballets focus on body motions and theatrical elements to depict music, forming an image or the expression of/provoking an emotion.
Between the ballets, there are different styles. The three styles that exist in ballet is classical, neo-classical, and contemporary ballet. Classical ballet highlights symmetry, graceful flowing movements while focusing on the classical ballet form (turn-out legs and pointe work) as they use ballet to illustrate a story. Neo-classical is the different in the sense where it highlights more speed, energy and attack while manipulating the classical form in an asymmetric manner. Here, ballet is not done to contextualize a story. Lastly, there’s contemporary ballet which focuses on floor work, turn-in of the legs, greater range of movement and body line. You may see either pointe shoes or bare feet.
In the realm of ballet, there is a whole entire diction dedicated for ballet. While discussing how ballet is incorporated in Kai’s solo debut, certain ballet terms will be used. However, you do not need to worry about knowing the terms as what they will be discussed briefly.
Another thing that is important to discuss is lyrical dance. This is where Kai’s two dance earlier experiences meet. Lyrical dance is a type of dance style that has a mixture of ballet and jazz where the lyrics of a song is used as inspiration when creating the dance movements. Lyrical dance is more individualized and allows the dancer’s movements to portray the emotion and story of the song.
Lastly, Jazz dance is rooted from Africa which has over the centuries stemmed other branches like broadway, funk, hip-hop, Afro-Caribbean, Latin, pop, club jazz, popping, B-Boying, party dances, and so on.
KAI as EXO KAI
When Kai first enter the K-pop scene, he was able to introduced lyrical, contemporary, and jazz styles of dancing into the industry.
People were able to see newly debuted Kai showcase some contemporary, lyrical choreographies such as “My Lady”, “Baby, Don’t Cry”, and “I See You”.
FILM: KAI and the Different Dimensions of Dance
We can look at his video “FILM: KAI”, and we can see how Kai took the world of ballet and music and connected them.
“Hello Stranger”, choreographed by Mecnun Giasar and Mihawk Back, is a piece where we can see Kai use lyrical dance. As mentioned, lyrical dance is a type of dance style that has a mixture of ballet and jazz where the lyrics of a song is used as inspiration when creating the dance movements. Here are a couple of instances where we see how lyrics of the song inspired the movements.
When he sings “I saw your reflection in the glass/ Somewhat similar to me”, he covers his face and extends his hands in a circular motion until they are right in front of him. This moments matches to the words, he is looking at his own reflection, metaphorically seeing someone else that is similar to him.
When he sings “Hello Stranger/come closer” and extends his arm out to the sky, pulls down and and extends his arm as he twists his torso, as if he were hugging or trying to catch something. He is inviting this person, trying to catch them, luring them in.
This part is not part of the lyrics but to the sound, and it is quite beautiful. When he has a dancer, faced covered, behind him, mimicking him, they both move their arms to the sound of the guitar as if they were strumming it.
Also, adding a hologram and a dancer that copies Kai adds to those lyrics. In this lyrical jazz piece, we can see how fluid Kai is and how much control he possesses.
Nothing on Me
Kai showcased powerful and fierce dance movements as his fellow dancers were very soft and graceful. Here, we can see the ballet side of Kai. Nothing on Me, choreographed by Jemma Lee, is more of a contemporary type of ballet.
During the pas de deux (dance between two people), Kai, while wearing white, does a bit of floor work, but the corps de ballet (body of the dance) conduct an entire routine of floor work. This could be a technique called the graham technique. It centers the use of contraction, release, fall and recovery as it features floor work and the usage of abdominal and pelvic contractions. The style of dance is very grounded which is dichotomous to the sylphlike, airborne standards of ballet. They still obtain that gracefulness; however, it is not the same light, airy feel that classical ballet has nor does it stress strict adherence to form and technique.
Their form, the way they consistently point their toes, their grace all describe ballet, particularly contemporary ballet. While they dance beautifully, Kai was able to incorporate several moves such as an en dedans pirouette (a complete turn with one foot) while his arms position are at 4th crossed and salute (jumping). Kai and his fellow dancers are able to embody high levels of grace while still applying texture to their work.
The techniques used for this song is quite interesting. To make sure these interpretations were accurate, Danseur KAI, a twitter account dedicated to Kai and his dancing abilities using their own dance background to analyze, was reached out. Not only they agreed but also thought it was interesting about the Graham technique mentioned here and added that “[Graham’s] techniques are often representative of life struggles and society vs individual conflicts”. This makes this even more interesting, because in Kai’s commentary for “FILM: KAI”, he mentions he was wearing white and dancing in dirt to signify all the hardships he’d face in life. Once we get into the mirror, we are now seeing his inner side. There’s so much layers to unpacked; it is so amazing.
“Mmmh”, choreographed by Mihawk Back, has various dance elements that would be in executed in ballroom, hiphop, and so on. Even in those variations, Kai still executes in ways where you can see the style he started with. In this sensual choreography, we can still see those moments where we see that grace we know that is embedded in his body. We can see bits of ballet influenced movements such as his turns, his arm position at 4th position, and his jumps which reminds us of his dance background.
A more in depth analysis of this choreography can be viewed on YouTube by Jeff Avenue, who is a big fan of Kai for the ways Kai is captivating in the sense of performance.
Ride or Die
In Ride or Die, choreographed by Nino Kim and Keone Madrid, this is where we see elements of jazz dance. We can see in the ways Kai embodies the routine in his smoothness and his ability of being free yet sharp.
A Newer Styles to Kai
Kai enters with flavor and strength in a more commercial, hiphop routine. Despite Kai’s ballet and jazz dance background, he is able to explore hiphop and do it it extremely well. In “Reason”, choreographed by Mihawk Back, Bada Lee, and Vata, he was able to give us a nice kick as he was able to show different techniques and hiphop dance trends such as smeeze and monestary. He was able to hit the beat at the right time, keep his power and energy high, and was able to incorporate amazing footwork like crisscrossing.
A more in depth analysis for Reason can be found on YouTube by DonKawaii who pinpoints where these, and more, techniques and trends are used.
He also went in depth when analyzing “Mmmh”, discussing imagery — images of lust, love, and being chained. This a very ballet idea of using theatrical elements, as mentioned before, to depict music, forming an image or the expression of/provoking an emotion.
These choreographies gives us a newer Kai, something we do not often see.
KAI Continues to Learn and Grow
“I started ballet when I was 8 years old and so I started out with classic. When I first learned urban dance after only doing jazz and ballet, I was very surprised. ‘Oh, genres like this exist’. My years as an artist while similarly a continuance of surprises and lessons. I thought dancing and singing was all but it wasn’t. I think I thought most about dancing. Like lyrics portray emotion, I wanted to express the lyrics through dancing. I think drawings, music, and dance or tools to express emotions. As my love for the stage grew, the number of tools to expess emotions also increased. I think I naturally improved when I knew exactly what I wanted to expess and my goal, gave it a lot of thought and worked hard to achieve it.”
This is how we can see how Kai was able to acquire these skills and to move in a way that is beyond many. He takes pride in his background of dance, applies it throughout, while still being open to new things.
During a workshop, Bada Lee mentioned Kai and how hard he worked despite finding hiphop style of dancing more difficult. Translated by one of Kai’s dedicated and loyal fanbase, INTL KAI, Bada Lee said:
“He found [Reason choreography] difficult but Kai is a perfectionist so he worked really hard…I learned a lot from his enthusiasm. It made me want to teach him with more passion.”
This just shows how hard he works. He even gives strength to his instructors. Kai is a gem in performing. It is evident how much excitement there is when teaching him a choreography.
Kai is a well rounded dancer who doesn’t stay stagnant in one or two areas of dance. While learning more, he still takes pride in the fact he started with ballet and continues to use those techniques throughout his career. His prowess as a professional dancer shows high excellence, ultimately being so mesmerizing that it is almost impossible to not be at awe. Time and time again, Kai shows why he is considered a storyteller in the eyes of others through the motions of dance.