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Rennie Harris Puremovement Celebrates 15 Years in Kimmel Center Retrospective

by Merilyn Jackson
June 12, 2007
Philadelphia, PA
Rome & Jewels, Facing Mekka,
Preview of PrinceScareKrows Road To Da Emerald City
Rennie Harris Puremovement
Kimmel Center
Broad& Spruce Streets
Jun. 20, 7:30 p.m. P-Funk, March of the Antmen
Jun. 21, 7:30 p.m. Preview & Rome & Jewels
Jun. 22, 7:30 p.m. Facing Mekka
Tickets: 215-893-1999 or
www.kimmelcenter.org
Celebrating an anniversary is Bessie-Award winner, Renee Harris's Puremovement Dance Company with a 15-Year Retrospective at the Kimmel Center. Puremovement consists of Breakers and B-Boys, verbal artists and rappers, hip-hop dancers and tappers. Like Momix and Blue Man Group, Rennie Harris Puremovement has more than one troupe touring in a schedule that takes them from Maine to Frankfurt-am-Main. Harris's most cohesive and globally acclaimed works are Rome & Jewels,and, after many false starts, the multimedia Facing Mekka, finally receives its Philadelphia premiere. Tobin Rothlein's videography projects scenes of starving children, African dance rituals and war. Harris solos against the rest of the company as a dispirited, inconsolable soul. In these and his other works, he weaves his inner-city upbringing and African-American culture into works of high art.

With physical and verbal gymnastics, Harris reinvents a childhood favorite like Westside Story, turning it on its head into Rome & Jewels with its hauntingly unforgettable soliloquy's. He'll preview a section of PrinceScareKrows Road to Da Emerald City. Though this may sound Oz-ian, it is not. Harris is known as Prince ScareKrow, and it seems to me he is dancing along his own yellow-brick road searching for some out-of-reach Utopia, at least in a state of mind. His compelling solo, Endangered Species embodies that search. Not as intense as Endangered Species, another excerpted preview of a work-in-progress will be 100NakedLocks, which deconstructs locking in the African American dance idiom.

Other works like P-Funk and March of the Antmen serve as dynamic entertainment with some deeply searching moments about issues like the status of African American males. But not everyone sees Harris in this light. Not long after his first Bessie, Jennifer Homans, in The New Republic, said there was "a pitiless, unrelenting display of black "attitude" and street smarts" in his work. She was writing in an article on violence in dance, not long after 9/11.

As a Philadelphian, I have watched Harris's work frequently over the 15 years years and see both violence and attempts at understanding and empathy.

Nevertheless, after receiving his Bessie, Harris horrified the audience with his remark about the still smoking ruins of the Twin Towers: "Hey, everything is okay," he said, "we have been purified; the planet wasn't supporting us; this is a cleansing moment."

You would have had to take some severe hits in life to inure yourself to such unspeakable human suffering. Let us hope that whatever color his artistic path, it leads him to healing and a deeper humanity as well as artistic success.
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