RENNIE HARRIS IS A MAN WITH A LOT to say. His press credentials describe him as an "inspirational humanitarian." To get his message across, he's not averse to using word, image, movement--anything, really, that promises a dramatic effect. Over the course of the Rennie Harris Puremovement performance at On the Boards, the audience is subjected to a lecture encouraging free interpretation, a short film modeled on a Western, slide projections of political collages, folk tales, voice-overs, Shakespeare, and dry ice. Although in his pre-show lecture Harris proclaimed, "Whatever you get from this tonight is what you're supposed to get from it. I'm not tripping about the work," almost every element of the evening was steeped in blatant and banal messages about racism, self-motivation, higher power, and tradition. I suppose it's a testament both to the feelgood nondenominational approach of the performance and to Harris' own ambition that the messages were opaque, but an opaque message never really moved anyone to action. And no one in the audience reacted overtly to any of the multi-media maneuvers--instead they sat, watching politely, nodding politely....

Until the dancing happened. Rennie Harris is, first and foremost, a choreographer, specializing in hiphop, a style he traces back to the wellspring of African rhythm. Even more impressively, while his ensemble has traveled with the likes of Run DMC, Salt 'n Pepa, Marky Mark, and LL Cool J, his real work remains bold and non-commercial. In between the drama and the fog at Puremovement, two straight dance pieces--"Continuum" and "Students of the Asphalt Jungle"--stood out like jewels, oases of technical prowess. "Continuum," a piece Harris plans to add six minutes to every year, in the spirit of time as a circle, features "call-out" performances, where one dancer emerges from the group to briefly and beautifully dance their own specialty. "Students of the Asphalt Jungle" features more group movement, the five lead male dancers in athletic tandem, spilling over the stage. These two pure-dance pieces held more narrative power than any of the shenanigans that proceeded them, illustrating the poles of identity through concise and authoritative art, and bringing the audience to screaming fits.

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