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Wednesday August 20, 2014
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Rennie Harris Puremovement

 

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Just past forty, Harris is a force field in hip-hop culture. Early on, he toured with superstars Run-DMC and Whodini, among others, and in the last few years, in his hometown of Philadelphia, he has annually produced Illadelph Legends, an outrageously thrilling showcase of break-dance pioneers and virtuosic youngsters in good-humored competition. In 1992 Harris founded his Rennie Harris Puremovement in order to expand hip-hop's range and meaning beyond the commercial stereotypes.

Harris made a name for himself by theatricalizing hip-hop with such works as the harrowing chase solo Endangered Species (1992) and Rome & Jewels (2000) — an ambitious adaptation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, performed in Ann Arbor in 2002. He broadened his artistic portfolio further with Facing Mekka, and made his career.

Like Rome & Jewels, Facing Mekka (2003) is an evening-length piece incorporating live music and dance. Unlike Rome & Jewels, though, Mekka avoids straight narrative. Meaning is oblique — references are shaded and fused. The onstage band — including a DJ, vocalists, a percussion section, and a cellist — performs overlapping rhythms and evocative sonorities from around the globe, with special emphasis on Africa and Asia. The movement style is equally encompassing.

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