FirstWorks Brings Longest Running Street Dance Touring Company in American History to Providence for Performance and Free Community Events
November 2, 2023

Rennie Harris Puremovement American Street Dance Theater Re-mounts Epic Hip-Hop Masterwork ‘Rome & Jewels’ at The VETS on November 18

Providence, RI—FirstWorks, a Providence-based nonprofit dedicated to connecting art with audiences, announced new community events featuring Rennie Harris Puremovement American Street Dance Theater leading up to a performance of “Rennie Harris Presents: Rome & Jewels.” The performance takes place at The VETS on Saturday, November 18, 2023 at 8:00 p.m. Harris’ masterwork is based on “Romeo and Juliet” and challenges preconceived notions of Shakespeare with a hip-hop journey through the streets of Philadelphia. The artist residency also includes an online Artist Talk, a participatory Dance Floor Dialogues event co-hosted with Brown Arts Institute at Brown University and two in-school workshops for students. Community event and performance tickets are available at https://firstworks.org.

“‘Rome & Jewels’ will be an electrifying performance from the preeminent master and elder of hip-hop dance and a powerful experience for our audience,” said Kathleen Pletcher, Executive Artistic Director of FirstWorks. “As we prepare to celebrate our 20th anniversary in 2024, we honor the long relationship we’ve built with Rennie Harris. This residency marks FirstWorks’ third collaboration with Rennie Harris and his company, who are celebrating 30 years of leading the artform of American Street Dance onto proscenium stages across the world.”

About “Rennie Harris Presents: Rome & Jewels”

The Bessie Award-winning production is a story of fear, love and triumph set in the streets of Philadelphia and rooted in the traditions of hip-hop and street dance. In “Rome & Jewels,” Harris, who was hailed as “The Basquiat of the U.S. contemporary dance scene” by The London Times, reinvents the timeless tale of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” to embody the diverse African-Diasporic traditions of the past and to pave the way for innovative storytelling through dance. The resulting evening-length production explores racial, religious and economic questions through the lens of street violence between warring families. The performance broke ground both nationally and internationally, and has won three Bessie awards, a Shakespeare Theater Award, and a nomination for the United Kingdom’s Lawrence Olivier award.

As part of their FirstWorks residency, Rennie Harris Puremovement American Street Dance Theater will engage with local artists, community members and students through free events.

On Thursday, November 9, 2023, from 7:30-8:30 PM, choreographer Rennie Harris joins Providence-based dancer, educator and choreographer, Jessica T. Pearson, Associate Professor of Dance at Rhode Island College, online for a Virtual Artist Talk about the re-staging of “Rome & Jewels.” The free talk will be held on Zoom with registration at https://firstworks.org.

On Friday, November 17, 2023, from 6:00-8:00 p.m., FirstWorks and Brown Arts Institute at Brown University welcome community members to participate in Dance Floor Dialogues in William Riley Hall at The Lindemann Performing Arts Center. Using dance as a catalyst for conversation between the Rennie Harris Puremovement American Street Dance Theater company members and Providence’s local community of movers, host Chip Douglas will facilitate the dialogue on the dance floor with invited guest artists who specialize in hip-hop, freestyle, ballet, breaking and Afrobeat. Featured local artists include Chip Douglas, DJ Franchise, Fallon Santos, Jay Breen, Miss Keke, NVNO and TRXCK. Food will also be provided. Register at https://firstworks.org.

As part of FirstWorks long-running education program, artists from Harris’ company will conduct in-school workshops for students at The MET School in Providence and Jacqueline M. Walsh School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Pawtucket. Learn more about FirstWorks’ education offerings at https://firstworks.org/learn/.

RHPM 30th Anniversary is a National Performance Network (NPN) Creation & Development Fund Project co-commissioned by FIRSTWORKS, World Music Inc, Flynn Center for the Performing Arts, The Joyce Theater Foundation’s Stephen and Cathy Weinroth Fund for New Work, Bates Dance Festival, and NPN. The Creation & Development Fund is supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Mellon Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts (a federal agency). For more information: www.npnweb.org.

This presentation of “Rennie Harris Presents: Rome & Jewels” is made possible with support from New England Foundation for the Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, Providence Tourism Council, Papitto Opportunity Connection, and Rhode Island Council for the Humanities. Special thanks to Brown Arts Institute at Brown University.

About Rennie Harris

LORENZO RENNIE HARRIS (Founder/Artistic Director/Choreographer/Director) Dr. Lorenzo (Rennie) Harris was born and raised in an African American community in North Philadelphia. Since the age of 15, Harris has been teaching workshops and classes at universities around the country and is a powerful spokesperson for the significance of “street” origins in any dance style. In 1992, Harris founded Rennie Harris Puremovement, a street dance theatre company dedicated to preserving and disseminating street dance culture through workshops, classes, lecture, lecture demonstrations, residencies, mentoring programs, and public performances. Coining the term Street Dance Theater and Hip-hop Concert dance, Harris founded his company based on the belief that hip hop culture is the most important original expression of a new generation. With its roots in the inner-city African American and Latino communities, hip hop can be characterized as a contemporary indigenous form, one that expresses universal themes that extend beyond racial, religious, and economic boundaries, and one that (because of its pan-racial and transnational popularity) can help bridge these divisions. Harris’ work encompasses the diverse and rich African American traditions of the past, while simultaneously presenting the voice of a new generation through its ever-evolving interpretations of dance. Harris is committed to providing audiences with a sincere view of the essence and spirit of hip hop rather than the commercially exploited stereotypes portrayed by the media. Currently, Harris tours a collection of evening-length works as well as classic repertory works of the last 30 years. Rome & Jewels, the first evening-length work written, choreographed, and directed by Rennie Harris, uses Shakespeare’s text to tell its own story based on West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet. To date, Rome & Jewels is the longest touring street dance theater work in American history with three Bessie Awards and four Black Theater Alvin Ailey Awards. It was also nominated for a Lawrence Olivier Award (UK) and received The Harman Shakespeare Theater Award for adaptation of West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet. Rome & Jewels has performed for sold-out audiences nationally and internationally. The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote of the work, “Harris has built a wedge that will open the doors of America’s art centers, displaying hip hop as clear cultural expression, compelling to all races and generations’… ‘Rome & Jewels is clearly the work of an artist of uncommon vision’…’we get to witness, right here in our city, the evolution of an important new dance form.”

In addition, Harris’s body of work includes evening length works such as Falling Crumbs From the Cake, Something To Do With Love, Legends of Hip hop, Facing Mekka, 100NAKEDLOCKS, HEAVEN, LUV American-Style, Rennie Harris Funkedified, LIFTED, and two new works still in creation and development phase – American Street Dancer and Losing My Religion. In Facing Mekka, Harris continues his quest to present street dance on the concert stage. To this end, he has developed a solo that challenges his own choreographic experiences and audience’s expectations of hip hop and street dance. Harris approaches the vocabulary of this work, entitled Lorenzo’s Oil, as a butoh-style hip hop dance. The solo is meant to integrate calming, serene space (represented by the butoh style) with Popping. Lorenzo’s Oil turns street dance on its head in order to draw attention away from the spectacle and acrobatic and high-powered movements that many audiences, particularly those outside of hip hop movement, expect, and see what it could/should be. Dr. Harris has found a way to marry his story with social dances and bring them to the concert stage, creating a cohesive dance style that finds a cogent voice in the theater. Much of Dr. Harris’s work has explored his personal experiences as an African American male growing up in North Philadelphia. At the turn of the century, alongside Princess Grace Kelly, Dr. and Julius Erving, Rennie Harris was voted one of the most influential people in the last one hundred years of Philadelphia history. He’s been compared to twentieth-century legends, Basquiat, Alvin Ailey, and Bob Fosse. In 2010, he received an honorary doctorate in the Arts and Humanities from Bates College (Maine) and a 2nd Honorary Doctorate in the Fine Arts from Columbia College (Chicago). He received the Kulu Mele’ African Rooted Dance award and the Guggenheim (2010). He has also been featured in Rose Eichenbaum’s Masters of Movement-Portraits of America’s Great Choreographers with dance legends such as Carmen de Lavallade, Judith Jamison, Fayard Nicolas, and Gregory Hines. In addition, he was awarded a medal from the Kennedy Center (DC) as a master of African American Choreography. Touring Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, and surrounding countries, Rennie Harris served as one of four Ambassadors for the United States as part of President Obama’s cultural exchange program, Dance Motion USA, which was led by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In recent years, Rennie Harris received the Dance Magazine Lifetime Achievement award (2017), the American Dance Festivals Samuel H. Scripps Lifetime Achievement award, The Doris Duke Artist Award (2020) and the Hermitage Greenfield Award (2023). He and his group of dancers and their infectious brand of movement have toured around the globe pioneering Hip-hop Dance Theater as a cogent and viable voice. Dr. Lorenzo “Rennie” Harris is atop the hip-hop heap, its leading ambassador. Visit https://www.rhpm.org to learn more.

About FirstWorks

FirstWorks is a non-profit based in Providence, Rhode Island whose purpose is to build the cultural, educational and economic vitality of its community by engaging diverse audiences with world-class performing arts and education programs. Now approaching its 20th anniversary, FirstWorks festivals, performances and programs have attracted more than 700,000 participants since its founding in 2004. During its 2022-23 season, FirstWorks produced over 40 arts education events reaching over 2,400 Rhode Island youth. Virtual Learning online platforms furthered FirstWorks educational reach and have so far engaged over 100,000 views from students, educators, and families. FirstWorks is the founding partner of PVDFest and has collaborated with the City of Providence to curate and produce the City’s free, signature arts celebration since 2015. Embracing collaboration, FirstWorks has fostered over 90 community partnerships across business, social service, government, arts and education sectors. Visit https://firstworks.org to learn more.

Advocacy Alert – Support H 8098 & S 2985 – Rhode Island Creative Futures Fund

Advocacy Alert – Support H 8098 & S 2985 – Rhode Island Creative Futures Fund

RHODE ISLAND'S ARTS AND CULTURE COMMUNITY HAS NOT RECOVERED FROM COVID-19! ONE-TIME FUNDING IS NEEDED NOW: RI ...
City of Providence Announces 2024 PVDFest Dates

City of Providence Announces 2024 PVDFest Dates

Creative Capital’s Signature Event Returns Downtown September 2024    PROVIDENCE, RI – Mayor Brett P. Smiley ...
FirstWorks and Small Island Big Song on The Rhode Show

FirstWorks and Small Island Big Song on The Rhode Show

FirstWorks' Kathleen Pletcher and Small Island Big Song co-producer BaoBao Chen join host Brendan Kirby on the ...
Indigenous Musicians from the Blue Continent Unite to Sing for our Changing Seas

Indigenous Musicians from the Blue Continent Unite to Sing for our Changing Seas

  International performance collective Small Island Big Song spotlights Pacific and Indian Ocean island ...
Save the Date for FirstWorks’ 20th Anniversary Celebration!

Save the Date for FirstWorks’ 20th Anniversary Celebration!

We are just days away from 2024, which marks FirstWorks 20th Anniversary! We look forward to celebrating this ...
Read FirstWorks’ 2022-23 Annual Report

Read FirstWorks’ 2022-23 Annual Report

Read our 2022-2023 Annual Report and see what YOU have made possible! This year the FirstWorks annual report is ...
Review: Rennie Harris’ ‘Rome and Jewels’: Keeping hallowed works vital

Review: Rennie Harris’ ‘Rome and Jewels’: Keeping hallowed works vital

By Kathryn Boland for Dance Informa Magazine Veterans Memorial Auditorium, Providence, RI. November 18, ...
From NYE to All-Year Arts, FirstWorks Looks Back

From NYE to All-Year Arts, FirstWorks Looks Back

by Ken Abrams for Providence Monthly “It’s kind of amazing,” says FirstWorks founder and executive director ...
FirstWorks Brings Longest Running Street Dance Touring Company in American History to Providence for Performance and Free Community Events

FirstWorks Brings Longest Running Street Dance Touring Company in American History to Providence for Performance and Free Community Events

Rennie Harris Puremovement American Street Dance Theater Re-mounts Epic Hip-Hop Masterwork ‘Rome & Jewels’ at ...
FirstWorks Premieres Multimedia Performance Installation from MASARY Studios During ‘Three Nights of Lights’ Winter Spectacle at historic Grace Church

FirstWorks Premieres Multimedia Performance Installation from MASARY Studios During ‘Three Nights of Lights’ Winter Spectacle at historic Grace Church

Dynamic lighting, 'spatialized' sound and video projections create immersive experience open to the public the ...
Hip-Hop Spin on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to Open FirstWorks’ 20th Anniversary Season

Hip-Hop Spin on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to Open FirstWorks’ 20th Anniversary Season

Celebrated Street Dance Choreographer Rennie Harris Presents: Rome & Jewels Marking its Rhode Island Premiere ...
Mayor Smiley, FirstWorks Unveil PVDFest 2023 Headliners

Mayor Smiley, FirstWorks Unveil PVDFest 2023 Headliners

Civil rights icon and Grammy Lifetime Achievement award-winner Mavis Staples performing at Innovation Park ...