Dubbed "the most respected—and the most brilliant—hip-hop choreographer in America" by The New Yorker
, Lorenzo "Rennie" Harris reigns supreme in his hometown of Philadelphia. This June, he brings his latest world premiere, Rennie Harris: Funkedified
, to the New Vic stage!
We sat down with Rennie and a few Funkedified
dancers from his company, Rennie Harris Puremovement, to talk about the power and joy of movement and his mission to bring street dance to the world.
In between visiting "as many block parties as possible and dancing all night," Rennie Harris began teaching at universities around the country at just 15-years-old. Since then, he’s dedicated his life to preserving and presenting street dance as a legitimate art form. While breaking the stereotypes and expectations of what hip-hop culture can be, Harris has received two honorary doctorates, founded two dance companies and created Philadelphia’s annual Illadelph Legends of Hip-Hop Festival.
The power of dance is a tangible thing in the world of Rennie Harris. His original work encompasses the diverse and rich African American traditions of the past, while presenting the voice of a new generation through an ever-evolving interpretation of dance. In choreographing he says, “I'm always chasing the feeling of freedom I get when I dance or when I choreograph a new piece,” and he aims to bring that sense of empowerment to others.
Phil Cuttino Jr., who joined Rennie Harris Puremovement in 2012, emphasizes that dance has, "helped me learn about myself as a human, as a man, as a son and as a leader." Puremovement's Tatiana Desardouin adds, "[Dance] helps me discover new things about myself as a confident woman."
Throughout his impressive body of work, there's one continuous thread—spreading the word of hip-hop and street dance throughout the country. Since their founding, his two eminent companies, Rennie Harris Puremovement (New Vic 1999, 2004, 2015, 2018) and Rennie Harris RHAW (New Vic 2013), have taken center stage. Puremovement was born in 1992 to "re-educate [the public] about hip-hop and its culture through artistic work, lecture demonstrations and discussions."
Puremovement and Funkedified
dancer Ricky "Glytch" Evans feels especially drawn to its core mission. He says, "My favorite thing about being a dancer is the ability to inspire others. Whether it's through teaching or performing, dance makes me feel something special, no matter how I'm engaging with it. It's a gift to positively affect the emotions of those around me by doing something that I love."
Though thrilled with Puremovement's success, Rennie saw a problem quickly develop. Many talented young artists were lining up to audition—too many, in fact. They didn’t quite have the level of professionalism needed to join his flagship company. So, in 2007, he created a solution—RHAW (Rennie Harris Awe-Inspiring Works).
Initially conceived as a youth organization, driven by community outreach and education, RHAW has evolved into a training program to "forge new paths for young hip-hop hopefuls, and present hip-hop in its 'RHAW-est' forms." Often, those "young hip-hop hopefuls" transfer from RHAW to Rennie Harris Puremovement. There, the students become the educators and inspire a new generation of dancers.
Outside of his companies, Rennie tries to reach the world...by simply educating it! A professor at over 11 universities (and counting), he’s inspired dancers all over the country in the classroom. Puremovement’s Leigh Foaad recalls, "My wife snuck me into Rennie's class at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), for two years. Then, I was invited to his annual festival, Illadelph, and was asked to join RHAW. Soon, I became a member of Rennie Harris Puremovement."
For Rennie’s fifth visit to the New Vic, he wanted to bring something special, a look back on his own coming of age in Philadelphia. This is a brand new work that’s not only entertaining, but reframes an artform that’s commonly dismissed as just "subway entertainment." Funkedified
is a celebration of funk, through and through, but more importantly it’s a celebration of Rennie’s evolution as a dancer, choreographer and educator, set to the tune of the music that echoed through his childhood and inspired him to first learn to pop, lock and break!
||Get on up with Rennie Harris Puremovement! Inspired by the soundtrack of his youth—Soul Train on the TV and James Brown on the radio—Rennie Harris celebrates all that is funk in the world premiere of Funkedified. Get your tickets today!