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New Victory Blog

The New Victory Blog is a place to learn more about New York's theater for families and the shows we produce. Find out what we do and what we're passionate about—exploring the arts as a family.

Written by Lindsey Buller Maliekel, Director of Education / Public Engagement

Whether in the classroom or at home, the New Vic encourages kids to discuss their theatergoing experiences with their peers and the adults in their lives so that they can make personal connections to a show's artistry and themes. We've received many comments from audiences who attended LUV: AMERICAN STYLE this past weekend. Some told us that the show gave them that chance to start authentic and interesting conversations with their kids, while others expressed that they felt unprepared for the show's plot and content. Given the range of responses, I'm hopeful that this blog post can help prepare audiences to explore and discuss their reactions to the show.

Still from LUV: AMERICAN-STYLE

In LUV: AMERICAN-STYLE, choreographer Rennie Harris uses hip hop dance and dialogue to tell a story about how one young man becomes mired in a case of mistaken identity. The loose plot portrays several breakdancing schoolkids who are arrested and wrongfully incarcerated for disturbing the peace. After the kids experience how tough prison can be, the mistake is discovered and they are released. The show touches on issues of prison violence, social justice and law enforcement and community relations.

New York City families are familiar with these issues, if not from their own lives, then certainly from current events featured in the news, on television, and in movies and music. Discussing these topics with young people can be challenging, but I invite you to consider how LUV: AMERICAN-STYLE can be a spark for authentic conversations with your family. The performance is something you experience together, and it can be a useful springboard for talking about topics your kids might have heard a lot about this year, including conflicts between teens and the police. Whether you have already seen the show or are planning to come this weekend, here are some tips to start, extend, and deepen those conversations.

Start with Questions

This is an opportunity for you to learn what your kid thinks, what they understand, what they have questions about and what connections they might be making to real-life issues and events in the news. Here are some prompts that can get you started:

Before you see the show:
  • How does the outside world view you as a kid/young adult? What do they understand? What don't they understand?
  • Do you ever feel that the world is unjust? How? If you had to create a dance piece about justice, what style of dance would you use?
  • Have you ever witnessed or been part of an unjust situation? What happened?
After the show:
  • What real-life issues were explored in LUV: AMERICAN-STYLE? How did Rennie Harris use dance and spoken word to address these issues? 
  • Can you think of any other pieces of art (dance, visual art, music, theater, etc.) that address real-life issues? Why do people create this kind of art? Do you think it's important to make this kind of art? Why or why not?
  • What questions do you have about the show? What did the show make you think about or wonder?
  • If you were to create a dance that addressed real-life topics, what topic would you choose? What style of dance would you use? What music would you choose?

Extend the Conversation

Once you've gauged your kid's curiosity and level of understanding, you can continue the conversation in an age-appropriate way. This could be a chance for you to correct misconceptions, answer questions that come up, and help your kid make sense of the world they are living in. Here are some suggestions:
  • Try not to over-explain. If your kid saw the show and had a different experience than you did while watching, meet your kid at the developmental stage where they are at. Don't feel the need to link the show to every event you've read about in the news over the last year.
  • Acknowledge that these are complicated issues that can be challenging to have conversations about—don't feel the need to be an expert. Include your own beliefs and values in the conversation, but don't feel obligated to have all the answers. You can always say, "I don’t know," or, "I want to learn more about that before we talk about it further."
  • Don't forget the art part! LUV: AMERICAN-STYLE has content and a storyline that feels related to current events, but it is foremost a dance performance! Talk about how RHAW used movement, music, space, lighting, tempo and relationships to tell the story. 

Deepen the Learning
Now that you and your kid have begun this conversation, here are some resources that can help you continue and deepen the experience.

Prepare yourself to continue the conversation:
Learn more about the artist:
Read books and go to see more art together that addresses related issues: 
Still from LUV: AMERICAN-STYLE

Art doesn't need to be a thing held apart from the world—rather, it provides a platform for artists to explore the world more deeply, and for audiences to do the same through ongoing conversation. In the case of LUV: AMERICAN-STYLE, Rennie Harris's intent is to provide "a greater understanding of how I personally choose to find the light during dark times." He created LUV with his son, Brandyn, who also performs as the main character in the show; this work is their family's contribution to the conversation. We hope it inspires you artistically, and perhaps gives you a springboard for meaningful conversations.
 

Lindsey Buller-Maliekel Lindsey Buller Maliekel is the Director of Education / Public Engagement for The New Victory Theater and has worked here since 2004.  She oversees the New Vic/New 42 Youth Corps program, as well as all enrichment activities for New Vic families. If you've ever stayed for a Talk-Back with the artists or hula-hooped with Teaching Artists before a show, Lindsey hopes that you had a great time! She has two sons who she hopes will always enjoy going to the theater with her.
Posted by Zack Ramadan

From season to season, we love being able to invite artists back to The New Victory, but no artist has presented as much work on our stage as Dr. Rennie Harris. He has been here four times before between 1999 and 2013, and this month Dr. Harris returns for his fifth show with us: LUV: AMERICAN-STYLE. To get ourselves in the hip hop mood, let's take a look back at some of these past appearances and recall what else was going on in the world!

Rennie Harris Puremovement – February 26–28, 1999

Rennie Harris PuremovementDr. Harris first visited The New Victory sixteen years ago in February 1999 with his award-winning company, Rennie Harris Puremovement. At the time, the company was already in its seventh year, performing a variety of innovative pieces showcasing the trajectory of hip hop dance. Some of these, like Endangered Species and Students of the Asphalt Jungle, are now among the company's signature works, and even then were they the subject of years' worth of critical praise from Seattle to Sheboygan to New York. 

In the late '90s, Dance Magazine profiled Dr. Harris and Puremovement repeatedly, calling Harris "the freshest, most creative imagination in the house, with an output that is nothing short of amazing," and congratulating Puremovement's dancers on their ability to "make the popping, spinning, breaking, locking, dueling, high-energy, virtuosic vocabulary of hip-hop into completely viable theatrical art." We were as excited to present Dr. Harris then as we are to welcome him back now, because nothing's changed: he's as creative and prolific as ever, and the acclaim keeps on coming.

Now let's think back to that distant year, 1999! The New Victory presented Rennie Harris Puremovement that February. What else was happening back then?
 
February 1999 • Pluto (still a planet at the time) becomes the ninth furthest planet from the sun again, as its eccentric orbit crosses Neptune's.
• TLC releases their third album FanMail after a five-year hiatus, and it spends the next five weeks at #1.
• Colin Prescot and Andy Elson circumnavigate the globe in a hot air balloon and set a new world record.


Rennie Harris' Legends of Hip-Hop – November 12–28, 2004

Rennie Harris' Legends of Hip-HopWhen Dr. Harris returned to the New Victory five years later, in November 2004, it was with this showcase tribute to the pioneers of hip hop. Dancers from Rennie Harris Puremovement and other, younger companies shared the stage with legendary artists from the 1970s: Don Campbell, originator of the Campbellock; Boogaloo Sam and the Electric Boogaloos, also of early West Coast hip hop fame; The Untouchables, from Harris's native Philadelphia; the Rock Steady Crew, representing NYC's contributions to the art form; and so many others. At the time, Dr. Harris's goal was "to honor the pioneers of specific hip-hop dance styles, have them collaborate with and inform younger dancers, and to learn about hip-hop culture from some of the seminal figures in its development."

While the Legends of Hip-Hop were here, The New York Times noted that the show was "an offshoot" of Harris's Illadelph Legends of Hip-Hop Festival. The Festival continues to this day, bringing these early hip hop trailblazers together with students and younger dancers in a series of master classes and workshops. This mission to preserve and share hip hop's history was (and is) central to much of Harris's work, especially, as the Times noted, during a time when hip hop dance was being "relegated to television commercials," focusing on quantity and flash over quality and innovation. Not so when the dance and its architects take center stage!

So what else was going on in November 2004?
 
November 2004 • The Nintendo DS is released in the U.S.
• Iceland's sub-glacial Grímsvötn volcano erupts.
• Spain makes solar panels mandatory for all new and renovated buildings.


Rennie Harris' New York Legends of Hip Hop – October 6–22, 2006

Rennie Harris' New York Legends of Hip HopFrom the streets of the Bronx to the four corners of the globe, hip hop had taken the world by storm by the time Dr. Harris returned to The New Victory in 2006. Like the 2004 show, New York Legends of Hip Hop showcased living legends from the art form's early days. This time, though, the focus was on New York! Pop Master Fabel and the Bronx-born Rock Steady Crew, Brooklyn marvels The Mop Top Crew and an all-star roster of young dancers and beatboxers teamed up onstage in a celebration that The New York Sun called "unfiltered hip-hop dancing at its most expansive and proud." I wish I could have been there!

It feels like just yesterday that these October 2006 events took place.
 
October 2006 • Ban Ki-Moon succeeds Kofi Annan as U.N. Secretary-General. 
• Google announces that it is acquiring YouTube.
• Bob Barker announces his retirement from The Price is Right.
• Scientists fully sequence the genome of the honeybee.


Rennie Harris: RHAW — May 14–26, 2013

Rennie Harris RHAWIn 2007, Dr. Harris founded RHAW (Rennie Harris Awe-Inspiring Works), a second company to meet the demand from younger dancers interested in joining Rennie Harris Puremovement. RHAW is a training ground focussed on mentoring young dancers in technique, professionalism and dance and theater etiquette. In the words of Dr. Harris, "Artistically, RHAW's choreographic works are less complex than the first company [Puremovement]. RHAW prides itself on going back to the basics of street dance and presenting works that are reflective of its original movement vocabulary and aesthetic."

As they pop, lock, balance and flip to the music of Queen and Michael Jackson, you'd be forgiven for thinking that RHAW's dancers are veteran professionals. Their visit to The New Victory in 2013 played to sold-out crowds of awestruck kids and families and earned critical praise for their artistic variety. "They don't settle for eliciting gasps," The New York Times observed. "There is more to them, that is, than showing off. The vocabulary embraces not just the full historical panoply of hip-hop styles but also salsa, tap and vernacular moves dating back nearly a century." They're not just kids dancing on stage—they're a new generation of artists, blooming under the wing of hip hop's greatest choreographer.

Do you remember these goings-on from May 2013?
 
May 2013 • Brazil becomes the fifteenth nation to legalize marriage equality.
• After nine seasons, The Office airs its final episode.
• Russian scientists discover a perfectly preserved woolly mammoth.


LUV: American-Style — May 8–17, 2015

LUV: American-Style thumbnailAnd now we come to today. This month, RHAW and Dr. Harris return with LUV: AMERICAN-STYLE. Where Harris's first four visits to The New Victory were showcases of various dance pieces, LUV is a single piece of theater with dance woven throughout, portraying one young man's struggle with identity, love and justice. It's a wonderful fifth chapter in Dr. Harris's New Victory story, a perfect marriage of theatricality and powerful, youthful dance. Don't miss it!

Feeling like dancing? Have some family fun and explore the three laws of hip hop dance with our Family Activity!

You can also learn more about the history and terminology of hip hop here.
 
Posted by Zack Ramadan
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