Celebrated Street Dance Choreographer Rennie Harris Presents: Rome & Jewels Marking its Rhode Island Premiere with FirstWorks at The VETS on November 18
Providence, RI—FirstWorks, a Providence-based nonprofit dedicated to connecting art with audiences announced their fall headliner, “Rennie Harris Presents Rome & Jewels,” a performance based on “Romeo and Juliet” that challenges preconceived notions of Shakespeare with a hip-hop journey through the streets of Philadelphia. The breakout masterwork by choreographer Rennie Harris’ Puremovement (RHPM) American Street Dance Theater features dancers and DJ’s and takes place at The VETS on Saturday, November 18, 2023 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $24-69 (including a $4 venue restoration fee) and are available now at firstworks.org.
“We treasure the long relationship we’ve built with Rennie Harris,” said Kathleen Pletcher, Executive Artistic Director of FirstWorks. “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. Their legacy as the longest-running street dance theater company in American history is especially significant as FirstWorks kicks off celebrations of our own 20th anniversary season.”
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 a FirstWorks residency, Rennie Harris Puremovement American Street Dance Theater will engage with students and community members through school workshops and a Creative Conversation. Additional details on residency events will be announced at firstworks.org this fall.
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.
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.
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. Since 2004, FirstWorks festivals, performances and programs have attracted more than 700,000 participants. 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. In June 2022 the three-day festival drew 115,000 people downtown to experience local and world-class artistry across nine stages, resulting in deep economic impact within the City of Providence and generating over $3 million in total expenditures. The festival has employed over 4,000 artists since its beginning. 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.