Hip-hop choreographer Rennie Harris apparently dislikes interviews—dislikes them enough, in fact, to suggest doing one at 4 am before vanishing into a phone and email void, never to be heard from again. Which is a bona fide bummer, because the man is an original thinker and a powerful dancer who's done a lot to shift the hip-hop paradigm.
Harris founded the male-dominated company Puremovement in Philadelphia in 1992, and soon thereafter gave viewers a glimpse of something rare: hip-hop as evening-length theatrical performance, in the Shakespeare-inspired Rome&Jewels and the multicultural movement exploration Facing Mekka . Harris also created Illadelph Legends, a festival that began in 2000 as a series of workshops and jam sessions steeped in hip-hop history and grew into a touring show with dance innovators including locking creator Don Campbell, among many others.
Harris got his own start back in the day as a member of the Step Masters and Scanner Boys, and you'll find echoes of his North Philly upbringing throughout his choreography: In the sharply etched solo Endangered Species , for example, his every movement freezes for a half-second as his voiceover relays a violent episode from his youth.
Which brings us to his new solo, "PrinceScareKrows Road to Da Emerald City," an autobiographical excerpt from a one-man show he's working on now. It comes to Portland on a bill with a preview of another work in progress, Breath , set on the company's four women. The rest of the night is devoted to the 1992 repertory works P-Funk and March of the Antmen, plus 1997's Continuum . From previous viewings, I can tell you that P-Funk evokes a neighborhood corner, with a spoken-word overture that opens into a cascade of unisons and solos, while Antmen takes its high-stepping cue from the Million Man March on Washington. And Continuum is an athletic dance jam that celebrates the company's formidable talent for b-boying and other hip-hop styles. Puremovement's physical virtuosity could land any of its dancers steady video and concert work, but Harris goes beyond mere flash, making movement that speaks his mind.