Impressions of Rennie Harris RHAW
Impression of Rennie Harris RHAW
Presented by: New Victory Theater, New York, NY
May 17th 2013
Choreographer and CEO of RHAW: Dr. Rennie Harris
Manager and Director: Rodney Hill
Performers: Amaryah Bone, Katia Cruz, Joshua Culbreath, Phillip Cuttino Jr., Neka French, Brandyn S. Harris, Mai L Ho Johnson, Kevin S. Rand, Neha Sharma, Mariah Tlili, Shafeek Westbrook, Davion Brown
For ticket information.
Stacey Menchel Kussell for The Dance Enthusiast
Rennie Harris has a gift for blending the urbanity of the hip-hop experience with the formality of the dance concert stage. The recent performance of RHAW, his junior company, at the New Victory Theater on May 17th was action-packed. Harris curates the show to highlight the talents of his young street dancers, introducing his audience to both the heritage and evolution of the genre.
The show features nine vignettes, each piece a chapter in a hip-hop story. The evening’s opener Continuum instantly transports the audience to a playground or parking lot where a dance battle is emerging. Encircled by a dancing crowd of their peers, each performer steps forward for a solo and presents their talents to one another as a rite of initiation.
Continuum immediately addresses the urban beginnings of the hip-hop form. Each dancer is dressed distinctively in bright sneakers, cargo pants, and jeans, playing a character that develops throughout the show. In this first piece, we are also given a preview of the diversity of street dance vocabulary. The striking Neka French flailing her arms at ninja speed is waacking; Shafeek Westbrook is breaking, fearlessly diving onto one forearm and spinning on his head; Brandyn S. Harris’s electric boogaloo vibrates, rolls, and pops in fits and starts.
The show flows from piece to piece with subtle blackouts, building on its momentum and fusing together different styles of hip-hop choreography. The excerpt from Brother has a ’70s Motown feel. The jumps and spins reference Campbell locking, coined by Don Campbell of "Soul Train" fame. Three B-Boys & a Girl is set in part to Middle-Eastern music, and is potentially inspired by the company’s recent residency in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Although hip-hop is one of the more commercialized dance forms, Harris succeeds in avoiding gimmicks. His nuanced and thoughtful choreography displays athletic bravura, but it is not dominated by tricks. He staggers lines and alternates facings to create a full-bodied stage effect. His compositions emphasize the individualism of each performer instead of masking personal expression with overly synchronized boy band moves.
The second act is particularly strong and rich with dramatic content. The excerpt of Peace and Love integrates African dance vocabulary and takes the audience to the center of the Civil Rights movement. 110th Street is a tangible urban tableau, and El Barrio features elements from salsa and samba, demonstrating the influence of Latin and Caribbean culture on the hip-hop form. The graceful, effervescent Neha Sharma shines in this piece, and Joshua Culbreath amazes with weightless backflips and countless head spins.
The New Victory Theater chose wisely in presenting RHAW. While the venue is geared toward younger audiences, this show is definitely not just for kids. RHAW is what a hip-hop show should strive to be – sophisticated, celebratory, and inspiring.
Rennie Harris RHAWis performing at The New Victory Theater through May 26, 2013. For ticket information,CLICK HERE.