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Monday, February 07, 2005

Sensational performance!

Rennie Harris is a brilliant performer...

and his dance company is astounding in what it brings together. The show is called "Exploring Outsider Art and Street Culture in Facing Mekka." The company is Rennie Harrie Puremovement. Astounding! The subtitle is "Imagine a whole new way to see. Life Amplified!" A more apt description could not be found, I think.

There were drummers, singers, film against towering screens, dancers who used the entire spectrum of movement from street dance to house dance to acrobatics to break-dancing to ballet and African-influenced movement. There was even one young musician who used only voice in an unbelievable range of sounds -- a page taken from the Bobby McFerrin songbook but expanded beyond belief. Gutterals, percussive bursts, screams and shrieks, with body movements accenting sound in a way that announced to the world that Hip Hop is indeed a worthy art form, one that now circles the globe and permeates much of the emerging art forms. Anyone who has allowed themselves to limit the definition to rapping (a single expression of a vast new world of expression) is missing something profound and as important as Dada-ism, Impressionism, Surrealism, etc. There are some new young masters making their mark in film, music, dance, and poetry (known as "spoken word")under the banner of Hip Hop. San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston, and large cities in between have embraced this exciting art form, and others will follow in time.

Rennie Harris, DJ Spooky, presentations by entrepreneur Russell Simmons all appear to be the leading lights right now. Their work is raw, audacious, and bold, often pushing the edges of propriety -- but then that's the role of the artist in society anyway, and always has been. And they're working from the pallette we've left to them as legacy; a legacy of unbridled violence from a constant stream of televised hatred fed to them in lieu of time and attention in a world often too busy for nurturing parenting.

In watching the show on Saturday night I realized the power of the dance as a way of dealing with profanity in ways that doesn't crash up against our hot buttons in quite the same way that speech does. Yet I saw in the multi-media backdrop fire and water and violence and guns and heinous cruelty and charging dogs all reinforced by a foreground where dancers contorted their bodies grotesquely to a cacophony of sound that was abstract and dissonant, raucous and magnificent! Had all of that been delivered in words I undoubtedly would have shut them out in the attempt to protect my senses. Dance exposed and delivered every emotion and at a feeling level that could penetrate my resistance without destroying me. It was amazing ... !

It also occurred to me that -- in this show that was devoid of sexual innuendo (almost always erroneously associated with Hip Hop) -- the new pornography is violence. But that's been true for a very long time now, hasn't it? Films and television exploit it quite freely, and we do little more than complain mildly and soothe ourselves with the belief that this is a freedom of the tawdry that we must defend as a privilege granted by the 1st Amendment, of course; and I agree. Maybe the answer is what young people are doing with it; transforming it into poetry and music and paintings and dance and reflecting it back to us for reconsideration in a plea for peace and love. If you listen closely you can hear that in the work of Eminem and others.

They're crossing racial and cultural lines to share their concerns and it's working for them. Below the age of 30 the young in urban areas show every sign of having eliminated racial bigotry from their world. The celebration of Black culture is universal in their world, and without apology. It's no longer a case of expropriation of a culture, but a crossing over of lines of separation with a full understanding of their own shared history and the "sins of the fathers" that may need atonement.

If we can keep the world from blowing up at the hands of those who make claim to fundamentalist religious beliefs, this supposedly profane generation of true believers may yet save us all.

Meanwhile -- if you live close enough and can get tickets to any of the upcoming Yerba Buena Center for the Arts dance performances this spring, do so. The Robert Moses Dance Company and DJ Spooky are both coming soon to the YBC. The Black Choreographers Festival at Project Artaud Theater, also in San Francisco comes February 11-13 with a Sunday family matinee performance. It should be really exciting.

Have been thinking over the weekend about contacting the Richmond Art Center director about the possibility of creating a program of performing arts tours that people here might subscribe to. Wonderful way to begin to build an audience for bringing shows here at some point in the future.

But for now there's work to do, like sorting laundry ... .

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