Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Let's dance! Rennie Harris rules the Joyce

Top: Kyle Clark, Bottom: Ryan Cliett
of Rennie Harris Puremovement
(photos by Brian Mengini)

Rennie Harris Puremovement's just-opened retrospective at The Joyce Theater, running through Sunday, finds Philadelphia's fiery hip hop ensemble dropping knowledge about the best way to stream street and club dance moves through conventional dance venues. We're talking two different worlds here, mainly because of who pays attention to the social, vernacular sphere vs. who pays attention to contemporary theatrical dance and how they pay attention and respond. If those aesthetic borderlines have gotten more porous for dance artists since Harris founded RPHM in 1992 and went on to win strong popular and critical success, give credit to the man for meticulous leadership--laying down a foundation of technical authenticity and skill.

Watching b-boying, voguing and related arts of the body in an official Hall of Dance shifts one's way of seeing: You're looking for a less sporadic and less frontal presentation, something more kaleidoscopic and something with interesting context. You're also looking for kinds of variety and subtlety that the excellent Harris crew are perfectly prepared to show you over a leisurely stretch of time--rhythmic precision, uncommonly supple physicality, footwork that can rival tap dancers for agility and complexity, and a gymnastic approach to the body that utilizes more body surfaces and levels and directional orientation and speed that we're used to. Crazy stuff. It's particularly great to watch the ensemble's women dancers--Danita Clark, Katia Cruz, Mai Le Ho Johnson and Mariah Tlili--no less forceful for adding a gleeful, distinctive juiciness to their propulsion.

The Joyce program, nearly two hours with an intermission, includes the 1997 Rome & Jewels (Harris's striking, award-winning take on Romeo and Juliet crossed with West Side Story, Shakespeare filtered through the ways and lingo of a couple of "star-crossed homies"), Continuum (1997), P-Funk (1992), March of the Antmen (1992) and Students of the Asphalt Jungle (1995).

Rennie Harris Puremovement continues at the Joyce through Sunday, February 2. For schedule and ticketing details, as well as the January 29 Dance Chat and January 31 Master Class information, click here.

The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue (corner of 19th Street), Manhattan

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