Tribeca 2013: ‘Flex Is Kings’ Raises Awareness of Street Dance with Loud Characters
Originating in Brooklyn, flexing, or a style of freeform street dance, is the subject matter behind Deidre Schoo and Michael Beach Nichol’s solid documentary, Flex Is Kings. Characterized by rhythmic contortionist movements combined with waving, tutting and gliding; the film is about so much more than the subject matter at hand. For many urban youths who partake, flexing is an outer body creative experience. This outlet provides the means to direct physical energy into an utterly unique social experience of trickery and showmanship. For Flizzo and Jay, they just don’t perform, they live and breathe flex. Flex Is Kings largely follows the lives of these two friends, among others, on their parallel paths in making flex known to the masses, and does so with the most earnest of respect for those who commit their lives to it.
Flizzo is one of the pioneers of the Brooklyn dance form, trying to stay on top of his game and become street king of BattleFest, a local flex competition run by Reem. A larger than life character, with the attitude and confidence to boot, the film follows Flizzo without glamorizing his persona, grounding his every day struggles. Some might even say his persona is the causation of his struggles. Juggling vocal differences between him and his girlfriend and raising his newborn daughter, flexing is just as much of an escape to Flizzo as it is a career. Very much into the smoke and mirrors of the dance’s repertoire, whether it’s having a bird fly out of his mouth or flammable magician’s paper flaring off his fingertips, one can’t contest to the fact that he is more about the show of flex rather than technique or skill. Amidst the crowds of wall jumpers, connectors, grinders, illusionists who make it look easy to tiptoe on air; is a heavyset arrogant dreamer whose biggest acts are tugging away at his Nerf gun and performing cap twirls. Many a times one might ask, “How can Flizzo, this no good/wise talking/star wannabe compete at all?” Yet the crowd goes wild for him. The film doesn’t pander to make Flizzo bigger than he is. We do not pity nor do we necessarily root for his victory. We just observe and absorb his profound energy, making him a highly watchable character indeed. Flizzo is a living testament to the idea of flexing. Unique and colorful, just like the dance itself, he strives to make a mark on its existence, like his own existence. If flex succeeds, Flizzo succeeds. Quite the martyr indeed.
If Flizzo fulfills the showmanship portion of flex, Jay’s technique makes it whole. Jay Donn, the counterpart dancer to the film’s story, is one of the members of Ringmasters, a group that appeared on the third season of America’s Best Dance Crew, who also has the incredible desire to make the dance art more mainstream by breaking cultural boundaries. We follow Jay as he takes on the interest of a local theater director, looking for someone like Jay to play the lead in the classical remix of Pinocchio.
Unlike Flizzo, Jay is purely likable and fantastic at dancing. Despite his loud appearance: tattoos’ cluttering his body with a lean and mean physique, Jay is the type of person who you want to hang around with. He’s the type of person who you want to root for. As the film progresses, Jay’s character digresses poetically. His flashiness turns into humbleness, as we see him proudly announce his lead role to his supportive mother. His passion turns into a career, as we see him tirelessly practice for his tour in Scotland. There is boyish innocence that lingers with Jay, even towards the end of the film despite his prolific successes, that isn’t quite there with Flizzo. Instead, it comes across as denial and defeat. Perhaps, if there is to say a flaw with the film, it’s the fact that Flizzo doesn’t have the background setup or digression in character development as does Jay. By comparing the two, there is no doubt that Jay is the prodigal son of all that is flex, which only bounds Flizzo toward failure. But then again, perhaps what we see of him is what we actually get. Nonetheless, the film does what it intends to do by packaging these two unique characters together. Great flex skill can only be exemplified with flamboyant behavior, and showmanship can only be seen by well executed foot work. Thus without Flizzo, there is no Jay. And without either, flex is no kings.
– Chris Clemente