June 19, 2019 | Behind the Scenes
“This is a chance to dance your way out of your constrictions…with the groove our only guide, we shall all be moved.” One Nation Under a Groove - Parliament Funkadelic
With one foot in the street and the other on the stage, Philly-born choreographer Rennie Harris uses the groove to move the boundaries of street dance while challenging people to see hip-hop through a new lens. With Rennie Harris Funkedified, Harris pushes the envelope even further with a celebration of funk and street dance inspired by Harris’ childhood.
LA’s Versa-Style Dance Company co-founder Jackie Lopez, aka Miss Funk, is a former student of Harris and will perform in the show with her fellow co-founder Leigh Foaad, aka Breeze-lee, along with dancers from Rennie Harris Puremovement and The Hood Lockers, and a live funk band on Saturday, July 20.
We asked Miss Funk, Breeze-lee and the Versa-Style crew to share their thoughts about Rennie Harris …
How did Rennie Harris transform street dance?
Rennie Harris has had a profound impact on hip-hop and street dance in multiple ways. We’ve seen street dancers backing up singers and performers, or elements of street dance used in modern and contemporary dance works, but he was the first artist to bring street dance to the concert theatre stage.
Rennie created works of art and used hip-hop dancers to express themes of blackness, struggle, masculinity/femininity, religion/spirituality, history, and so much more. As the pioneer of hip-hop dance theatre, he and paved the way for what is now a global phenomenon, giving countless other hip-hop and street dancers access to this art form.
Additionally, he created the Illadelph Legends Festival - one of the first forums that brought together pioneers of street dance, such as The Lockers, Electric Boogaloos and Elite Force - to teach workshops and hold panel discussions. No one had ever brought them together before to teach and share their knowledge with the next generation.
What effect did Rennie have on the genre?
Many didn’t believe hip-hop and street dance could achieve a level of “high” artistry until Rennie set the platform for it. Rennie elevated street dance in the minds of theatre presenters, academics and key gatekeepers around the world. His adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, re-titled Rome and Jewels, was a starting point for street dance to become something more than a “hood dance” in the eyes of mainstream America. It also inspired many dancers to create their own companies and works of art, including Versa-Style. Without him, hip-hop and street dance would not be valued the same way it is today. And there is still so much farther to go, so much more work to be done, but he paved the way for all of us.
Versa-Style co-founders Jackie Lopez and Leigh Foaad conceived the idea of a hip-hop/street dance company because of Rennie Harris Puremovement. It was this company and his work that inspired them to create original dance pieces of their own, with their own messages and meanings, specific to their experience as Angelenos.
Tell us more about Funkedified…
Funkedified is a new work that not only pays homage to the roots of hip-hop which are funk music and dance. It’s heavily influenced by Rennie’s personal experiences growing up as a young black man in Philadelphia during the funk era and traces his experiences through popping, locking, rocking, breaking, house and hip-hop. A live band brings the audience into that time period, as dancers riff with the musicians throughout the work, mixing choreography and freestyle dance to bring the 1970s funk era to life on stage.
We hope the audience walks away with an understanding of the essence of hip-hop and street dance. That it is a culture of vibrancy, creativity and individuality but also one of struggle and the ability to create something out of nothing. Most of all, we hope audiences walk away inspired, and singing funk all night long.
Rennie Harris Funkedified comes to the Ford on Saturday, July 20 at 8:00pm. Tickets and info here.