Rennie Harris Puremovement Exhibits Spirit of Hip-Hop

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

On Friday evening, the Rennie Harris Puremovement dance group performed “Something To Do With Love, Volume 1” in front of a packed, widely varied audience in LPAC. The group, which was founded in 1992 by Guggenheim Fellow and Philadelphia native Rennie Harris, aims to provide audiences with a sincere view of the essence and spirit of hip-hop, which Harris believes has been exploited by the media’s current stereotypes of the genre.

The show was divided into two distinct halves, separated not only by intermission but also by stylistic elements. Both acts played on traditional gender roles; the first act was distinctly feminine, discussing love in various forms.

“The first piece had a lot nonverbal theatricality in it. It communicated its theme without words,” says Meryl Sands ’13.

The second act began with a scene evoking thoughts of war. It incorporated two of the dancers speaking to the audience in a format that recalled spoken word poetry — appropriate, given that the art form has been greatly influenced by hip-hop.

“As a Theater major, I have been very interested in how dance and movement can be combined to create a vividness of expression without words. This show did that very well and gave me great insight into nonverbal communication,” says Sands.

The show attracted people from all over the Philadelphia area, and the audience consisted of a large mixture of ages and backgrounds. At intermission, everyone – little girls and Swarthmore students alike – got up to dance with each other. The company’s manager, Rodney Hill, expressed his gratitude at being able to perform again in the Philadelphia area, where Puremovement began but rarely has the chance to perform. Puremovement was nominated to represent the United States as part of a group traveling to the Middle East to complete community service, and the performance in LPAC was their last show in the United States before leaving.

In addition to the performance on Friday, Hill also gave a workshop on Thursday that was open to all students. It combined instruction of basic hip-hop steps with lessons on choreography.

“It was a chance to work with really talented people in a style that isn’t really offered here. To have such a world-renowned artist come to Swat was wonderful. It was probably one of the greatest dance performances I’ve ever seen,” says Chris Green ’14.

Rennie Harris Puremovement was brought to Swarthmore by the the William J. Cooper Foundation as a part of the Cooper Series in conjunction with the Department of Music and Dance. The next Cooper Series event is Signing Hands Across the Water, an international festival of sign language poetry taking place the weekend of March 16th in Upper Tarble.

Editor’s Note: This article originally listed Rennie Harris as the leader of the hip-hop workshop, instead of Puremovement’s company manager Rodney Hill. Rennie Harris was not present at the Rennie Harris Puremovement performance or workshop.

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