A lively audience filled the seats at the John Anson Ford Theatres on Saturday evening for Rennie Harris Funkedified, already dancing in the aisles when the warning bells rang. By the end of the night, however, the dancers of Rennie Harris Puremovement, with guests Versa-Style and The Hood Lockers had the entire audience standing, shouting, stepping with them—the truest stamp of approval.
First I must say that it feels a little strange to review locking, popping, and breaking from a critic’s standpoint—this dance practice was not created to be critiqued in the way that most forward-facing classical dance is, nor was it meant to be qualified by the criteria that most dance critics use. But Harris’ calls his work concert, putting it in the eyes of theatergoers, and thank goodness he does.
The evening began with an acknowledgement of audience members central to the forms demonstrated onstage. Notable popper and locker Suga Pop stood up for a warm welcome. But with the announcement that Don “Campbellock” Campbell—creator of locking—was present, the welcome turned into a roar.
The evening’s program was billed by song, each composition (whether original, or funk classic) performed by a live band, whose ability to lock in with the dancers’ rhythm was exceptional. The entire cast, The Hood Lockers and Versa-Style included, was a cast of individuals—and Harris allowed them the space to deliver their own artistry. As a choreographer, he showed a knowledge of each dancer’s skill and an ability to trust them to run with the choreography (and the freestyle, in moments allowed). This intuition really carried the evening, and solos and duets were much more compelling than the few unison sections.
Harris told me a few weeks ago that he doesn’t necessarily collaborate so much as he hires people to contribute their specialty to his vision—but this evening’s performance looked from the outside like a real team effort. To accomplish such a grandiose landscape, all the performers had to listen to each other. And listen they did, with their bodies and their ears. The Hood Lockers were able to keep tight unison during segments accompanied only by voiceovers, without looking at each other. With no counts and no visibility, their only choice was to tune into each other’s energy.
In the breaking section, Harris’ choreography properly paid tribute to the classic breaking techniques of the era. The audience, of course, was most impressed by power moves—I wonder if breakers ever get tired of toprocking without any reception until they hit the floor. But the soloist center stage stood out to me—even in his toprocks, there was a suppleness to his spine that translated beautifully in his transitions to the floor and flowed into and out of power moves and tumbling with such grace.
Rennie Harris Puremovement, hailing from Philadelphia, has its fair share of alumni in Los Angeles. In this case, two notable Puremovement veterans are Versa-Style’s co-founders, Jackie Lopez (aka Miss Funk) and Leigh Foaad (aka Breezelee). Lopez and Foaad were the backbone of the show, bringing energy that reached the last row and ownership of the stage on which they stood. Foaad’s solo was scored by audience shouts and whistles, praises of his virtuosity. Lopez made you feel every hit in your own body, creating her own almost visible bubble of electricity while somehow still communicating with the other two women onstage. This trio stood out among the night as a female claim to power, a time where Harris again let the dancers speak for themselves.
From what I understood, this presentation of Rennie Harris Puremovement was showier and more frontal than most, paying homage to Campbell and his legacy as a locker. I found Harris’ voice-overs and the projections a bit heavy-handed, though the specificity of his memories did lend some warmth to the evening. But even with this identity departure, Harris and his cast brought the house down with a performance that kept the audience completely engaged for two hours and left them invigorated and leo-walking out of their seats. For me, that’s a show.
Written by Celine Kiner for LA Dance Chronicle, July 25, 2019
To learn more about Rennie Harris Puremovement, click here.
For more information about the John Anson Ford Theatres, click here.
Featured image: Rennie Harris Puremovement – Rennie Harris Funkedfied – Photo courtesy of the Ford Theatres