Rennie Harris

Rennie Harris

Fellow: Awarded 2010
Field of Study: Choreography

Competition: US & Canada

The founder and director of Rennie Harris Puremovement, Philadelphia native Lorenzo Harris is a choreographer dedicated to raising people’s awareness of the history of hip-hop from its roots in the African diaspora to its evolution today as a means of expression—a kind of language, in fact—for the current generation. In Legends of Hip-Hop (2001), for example, he celebrates the legacy of such twentieth-century hip-hop innovators as Boogaloo Sam, Crazy Legs, and Don Campbell not only through dance, but through narrative and archival film footage projected as backdrops; in Rome & Jewels (2000), his BESSIE-award winning evening-length opera, he translated Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet into a hip-hop idiom; and the works in his standard repertory, such as Students of the Asphalt Jungle, P-Funk, and Continuum, are ebullient expressions of the power of the genre. He has received commissions for his choreography from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the Philadelphia Dance Company, and the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company.

Education is an important part of Mr. Harris’s mission. In addition to his work as choreographer, Mr. Harris promotes hip-hop through lectures, demonstrations of the art, and classes, as well as his dance company’s touring performances.

Among his many honors are a Pew Fellowship in the Arts for Choreography, Black Theater Alvin Ailey Award, Cal Arts Alpert Award, Master of African American Choreography Medal, United States Artist s Fellowship, and the Kulu Mele’ African Rooted Dance Award. In addition, he was voted one of the 100 Most Influential Philadelphians of the Last 100 Years, named the 2007 Pennsylvania Artist of the Year, and featured in Rose Eichenbaum’s Masters of Movement: Portraits of America’s Greatest Choreographers (Smithsonian, 2004).

In 2010, Mr. Harris added significantly to his honors. Not only did he receive his Guggenheim Fellowship, but Bates College awarded him an honorary doctorate, he was named a Cultural Ambassador for the City of Philadelphia, and the Rennie Harris Puremovement dance company was selected by DanceMotion USA to participate in its cultural exchange program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and will perform in Egypt, Jordan, Israel, and Palestine in 2012.

Often compared to Alvin Ailey and Bob Fosse, Mr. Harris seeks to emulate another iconic choreographer: Martha Graham. As he has recounted,

“I remember reading years ago a book about Martha Graham where she was to have said ‘You must never ever compromise . . . ever.’ The essence of Martha Graham’s character has always resonated with me. She was sometimes called a rebel and often questioned but always remained unswayed [from] her uncompromising truth as she knew it. People have called me a lot of things both good and bad. One of things I am most often called is a visionary. I think that is interesting. A visionary I am not. In my opinion, the language/culture of Hip Hop is the visionary and through it I have been able to see. I have been able to view the world in a way that no one had ever expected. Not even me. Like Miss Graham, I will continue to push the envelope, take risks and never ever compromise . . . ever.”


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