The explosive raw power of hip-hop remains its main draw, but artists like Philadelphia’s Rennie Harris are taking great measures to rectify that, to give this essentially urban art for substance and layers and, well, respect.
Rennie’s company, Puremovement, had already achieved that with a 2000 performance for the Pittsburgh Dance Council, “Rome and Jewels,” based on Shakespeare’s timeless love story. In the years since, Rennie has gone on to travel the world and become a global spokesperson for American hip-hop and has taken it hard to the university level, where he leads the way at no less than three institutions in codifying the latest form of dance.
The program that the company brought to the August Wilson Center was lighter than “Rome and Jewels.” It was instead filled with plenty of its trademark athletic movement geared to entertain the audience.
The style is easy-going and almost deceptive about its difficulty. Even the company’s women operated largely in their comfort zones in “Something To Do With Love, Volume 1.” It was teasing and flirty as the womanly trio interacted with a complimentary trio of men. Maybe George Balanchine said “ballet is woman,” but hip-hop is mostly about the b-boys. It was good to see the women given the spotlight.
I loved the hip action and the changing landscape of patterns as the dancers seemed to squiggle into different formations. And that sound of squeaking sneakers — will that overcome the more familiar sounds of taps and hard toe shoes?
The women disappeared after intermission as the men took charge, first in “P-Funk,” a variation on a hip-hop round with the men circling each other and taking turns in the middle, then “March of the Antmen,” a piece with overtones of guns and violence, but not overly dangerous. The finale, “Students of the Asphalt Jungle,” was a display piece, where the men saved their best moves for last.
I have to admit that although hip-hop seems to be based on the fountain of youth and ever-ready freshness, it was pretty grand to see the muscular control and unwavering professionalism of Puremovement. And although I’m not prone to slang, you could say it was purely, totally rad.
If you missed the performance, click on Rennie Harris Puremovement for a video sample.