Rennie Harris, master hip-hop choreographer, doesn't like the projections of hip-hop culture he sees and hears on TV, radio and the Internet. "Hip-hop has evolved; there's no one way to do it," he says. If anyone should know this it's Harris, who himself has evolved from Run-DMC backup dancer to one of the most fascinating dance figures at the intersection of street and theater dancing.
Harris is one of four dancemakers featured on Dayton Contemporary Dance Company's program, "Colorography: The Dances of Jacob Lawrence," playing one night only, tonight, at the Schnitz. Harris, who has the street cred from his younger dancing days and the pedigree of choreographing for the likes of Alvin Ailey Company, says that he was approached by DCDC Artistic Director Kevin Ward with an idea: create a new dance based on the paintings of seminal African-American artist Jacob Lawrence. But rather than run into an art gallery to soak in Lawrence's vivid colors for inspiration, Harris started where he always does: with the movement.
"It's like when you're writing and you just see the next word, it's the same thing with movement phrases," Harris says by phone from L.A. "It became clear that we were reaching for a specific spirit."
Harris, whose work has graced both the White Bird and PICA stages, will be a familiar dancemaker to Portland by the end of 2007 thanks to the always-enterprising Paul King and Walter Jaffe of White Bird Dance. In the just-announced lineup for their 10th anniversary season in 2007-08, Jaffe and King are not only bringing Harris' full company—Rennie Harris Puremovement—back to town for three shows Dec. 6-8 at Portland State University, they're also bringing a satisfyingly diverse range of international dance work to Portland in what may be their most ambitious season yet.
Among many highlights, King and Jaffe are especially proud of "4x4: The Ballet Project" (May 8-9, 2008), a new collaboration White Bird has fostered between San Francisco Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Eugene Ballet Company and our own Oregon Ballet Theatre: Each company will perform a work not seen here before. They're also offering some returning favorites in '07-'08: Paul Taylor Dance Company (Oct. 3) and Stephen Petronio Company (March 5, 2008) among them—and continuing to scout out the hottest international dancemakers around. After DCDC closes on April 25, King and Jaffe leave for two weeks to Holland, and are bringing the Netherlands' oldest dance company, Scapino Ballet Rotterdam, back to the U.S. (April 30, 2008) after a decadelong absence.
For hip-hop culture and dance, as for White Bird, Harris says it best: The sky's the limit.