Performing Arts: Dance
January 30, 2014
In the late 1970’s the dance field panicked. They feared the disappearance of a distinctly American urban dance form called “hip hop.” Considering the preponderance of street dance in music videos, modern dance, ballet and clubs, the reports of the death of Hip Hop were greatly exaggerated.

Many dancers incorporate the gymnastic and rubbery hip-hop vocabulary into their choreography, but Rennie Harris creates concert style hip-hop ballets. At the Joyce Theater, the well-versed Philadelphia based Rennie Harris Puremovemnt performed an excerpt from a full-length Rome and Jewels and P-Funk as well as Students of the Asphalt Jungle and March of the Antmen.

The nigh opened on the choreographically strong Rome and Jewels, an excerpt from a full-length evening piece cast from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, or more to the point “West Side Story.” Two competing street gangs rough each other up using the jargon of street dance moves. Tragically, Rome’s heartthrob Jewels belongs to the opposite posse. What sets this apart from the other pieces on the program is the insertion of modern dance moves threaded through the recognizable hip-hop steps. Structurally more complex, this work threads athletic moves into more lyrical breaths and counter-point. Spoken words reference the original text and the universal struggle between young lovers and antagonistic families.

Rather than relying on the usual hip-hop A-B-A structure, the choreographic counterpoint thread athletic moves into more lyrical breaths and movement arrangements that split into unexpected directions.

This is not to say that the remaining pieces were not energetic and engaging, but the format becomes predictable. Unison chorus surrounds the flashy personalized moves of a soloist who feeds back into the circle or is joined by another dancer. There’s no end to the athletics and the audience’s admiration of dancers, both male and female, executing their “identifying” moves-- head spinning, one shoulder head stands, arm an leg locks, etc.

In the end, Rennie Harris shows young people that professional dance embraces many forms.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipitois

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