Hip-Hop Artist Rennie Harris Presents Facing Mekka at Center for the Arts

Posted: May 3, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

The kinetic energy of hip-hop street dance moves to the stage when Rennie Harris Puremovement performs the Washington, D.C.-area premiere of Facing Mekka at the Center for the Arts on Saturday, May 7, at 8 p.m. For Rennie Harris, a pioneering artist who has made it his life’s work to challenge assumptions about hip-hop, his new work celebrates the liberating power of dance and takes audiences on a spiritual pilgrimage back to the very roots of hip-hop.

Interested in human commonalities found in the marriage of movement and music from cultures around the globe, Harris aims to show the common ground among various and seemingly disparate peoples through dance. This cross-cultural exploration draws on diverse influences, including African ceremonial dances and the martial arts form Capoeira. In contrast to the traditionally masculine connotation of hip-hop in today’s society, Rennie Harris focuses this work on women and hip-hop movement. Facing Mekka represents a departure in Puremovement’s usual gender makeup with a cast that is half female.

Premiered in 2003, Facing Mekka reflects Harris’ ability to push hip-hop movement into a broader, more universal performance context. The multilayered work includes 11 dancers, live percussion, multiple DJs, and a recorded sound score with original music performed by Philip Hamilton, Grisha Coleman, and Kenny Muhammad. As with Harris’ previous works, the choreography in Facing Mekka adapts cinematic elements and music sampling techniques to the music itself.

At age 40, artistic director and choreographer Harris is the leading ambassador of hip-hop. He is well versed in the vernacular of hip-hop, including the various techniques of “b-boying” (more commonly known as break-dancing), house dancing, stepping, and other styles that have emerged spontaneously from the inner cities of America such as the North Philadelphia community in which he was raised. He has brought these “social dances” to the concert stage, creating a cohesive dance style that finds a cogent voice in the theater.

Since age 15, Harris has taught workshops and classes at many schools and universities, including the University of the Arts, UCLA, Columbia College, and Bates College. He is a 1996 recipient of the Pew Fellowship in the Arts for Choreography and has received awards from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the Pew Repertory Development Initiative, the City of Philadelphia Cultural Fund, as well as a 1996 Philadelphia Dance Projects commission. Harris was voted one of the most influential people in the last 100 years of Philadelphia history and has been compared to 20th-century dance legends Alvin Ailey and Bob Fosse. He was also nominated for the Laurence Olivier Award and recently received the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts. His group of dancers and their infectious brand of movement have toured around the globe.

This performance is presented by George Mason’s Center for the Arts and the Washington Performing Arts Society. Tickets are $20-$40 and can be purchased by calling the WPAS Ticket Services Office at 202-785-WPAS (9727) or George Mason’s Box Office at 703-218-6500. Tickets can also be purchased online at www.wpas.org or www.tickets.com.

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