Rennie Harris grew up in the funk generation.

He tells me that funk music was the soundtrack to his youth—he danced to the likes of James Brown, George Clinton, Roger Troutman, and more. On July 20, 2019, he and his company Rennie Harris Puremovement bring a new work to the John Anson Ford Theatre. Rennie Harris Funkedified paints a picture of the political funk era, and of Harris’ connection to the strong bass lines and syncopation that identify the genre.

“The work is about me growing up in the funk era, and how funk affected me. It’s sort of autobiographical,” he said.

Harris began dancing professionally at age 14, an early start. A career dancing commercially (including on “the first rap tour to cross the country in 1983,” he tells me) led him eventually to begin choreographing for the stage. He says it was a matter of economics: someone paid him $1500 to make his own dance, so he did it.

“In the beginning, when people paid me to do it, I almost felt like it was wrong, like I was taking their money,” he said.

Rennie Harris - Photo by Osamu Inoue

Rennie Harris – Photo by Osamu Inoue

Harris took the job to provide for his family, and he’s been making dance ever since. He’s known for bringing hip-hop and social dances to the concert stage: his works Rome & Jewels, Legends of Hip-hop, and Students of the Asphalt Jungle may be most recognizable. In this piece, he works a little differently, bringing a live band into the mix to accompany a strong cast of dancers.

“I’ve worked with live music maybe once before—this will be the second time. It was a matter of making a decision to do something different. This way you can change things on the spot, craft the music around the choreography so it’s a little tighter,” he explained.

In this work, it’s a symbiotic relationship. While the music wraps around the dance with the help of a live band, the dance also responds to the music. Appropriately, the styles of dance reflect the iconic funk music choices; many social dances take on the name of the corresponding music style. In this case, Harris uses a few funk styles as the movement vocabulary base for Rennie Harris Funkedified.

“It’s all funk music, so it’s all funk styles; locking, popping, and breaking, mostly,” he said.

In these styles and many others, he’s learned from the best. Harris has worked with the creators of locking and popping (Don Campbell and Boogaloo Sam, respectively), and with pioneers of breaking (Rock Steady Crew’s Crazy Legs and Lil Lep). Learning choreography from Harris, the dancers of Puremovement dance these styles from a direct lineage—they’re the real deal. Established locking group The Hood Lockers and Los Angeles native company Versa-Style will join them onstage.

Rennie Harris Funkedified - dancers: marcus Tucker (Left), Andrew Ramsey (top), Joshua Culbreath (bottom), Richard Evans, Jr. (right) - Photo by Brian mangini

Rennie Harris Funkedified – dancers: marcus Tucker (Left), Andrew Ramsey (top), Joshua Culbreath (bottom), Richard Evans, Jr. (right) – Photo by Brian mangini

Though the company is 30 years old, this will be Puremovement’s debut at Ford Theatres. If you’re familiar with the venue, you know the stage is a little different than your typical proscenium. The Ford doesn’t have wings, the way a typical western theater stage would. This establishes a sort of transparency between dancers and audience members. Entrances and exits can be seen from much further out, and with two levels onstage, movers must navigate stairs mid-performance. Out of necessity, Harris made adjustments for this particular performance—think of it as a one-weekend-only version of Rennie Harris Funkedified, only seen in Los Angeles.

Even so, the work retains Harris’ spirit and philosophy, an ideology that comes through his work simply because it’s what he believes. Others call it a humanitarian perspective, a call for awareness in order to bring change. He tells me that it means no more than its title.

“This humanitarian perspective is just that—a humanitarian perspective. That’s what dance is, what movement is. It’s about changing reality. Nothing will change unless you insist on taking action. It’s what we as humans are, and how we operate. And we have to take action, to move, to survive.”

Written by Celine Kiner for LA Dance Chronicle

Puremovement will take action at the John Anson Ford Theatres in Rennie Harris Funkedified on July 20. To learn more and purchase tickets, click here.

For more information on Rennie Harris Puremovement, click here.

Featured image: Rennie Harris Funkedified – Dancers (L to R): Joshua Culbreath, Marcus Tucker, Andrew Ramsey – Photo by Brian Mangini

2017 Trailer for Rennie Harris Funkedified