written by Margaret Hart
Rennie Harris’ RHAW, currently playing through May 26th at the New Victory Theater in New York City, is 75 minutes of high energy, hip-hop dance that is exciting, fast-paced, breathtaking, and amazing, and makes you want to get off your seat and move your feet.
On the Friday evening when I attended the show, adults were applauding and cheering as each dancer demonstrated their signature moves, and young girls and boys in the audience were bouncing on their heels, and trying to recreate hip-hop moves in the aisles. It was like a party.
The young kids in the audience might not have recognized some of the music (“Bohemian Rhapsody” from Queen), or understood why the adults in the audience were nodding to the lyrics from “Across 110th Street,” by Bobby Womack & Peace, but that didn’t matter. They were excited by the exhilarating dance movements and the energy and talent on stage. And that’s what the New Victory Theatre does so well. It makes shows like RHAW available to all generations. The New Vic is, as stated so well in its promotional materials, “a place where storytellers reign alongside daredevils, puppets, rock stars, break dancers and—most of all—kids.”
RHAW’s founder, director, and CEO, Dr. Rennie Harris, is an Alvin Ailey Award recipient and a renowned choreographer whose previous works at the New Victory Theatre include Legends of Hip-Hop, and Puremovement. The current production, Rennie Harris Awe-Inspiring Works (RHAW), features a hip-hop dance theater company of talented young dancers, performing fresh spins on classic street dance styles. The multi-talented cast performs as a group and individually, each displaying their signature dance hip-hop moves. Whether they are performing their “swiping layout,” “popping/boogaloo,” “Halo,” or “WindWalker,” the positions in which they are able to move their bodies, and the speed at which they communicate through dance, are truly awe inspiring.
RHAW features several stories told through dance and music: “Brother,” an emotional performance about less fortunate male figures in society who are often judged and condemned; “Three B Boys & A Girl,” a love story told through nontraditional break dancing vocabulary; and an excerpt from “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which tells a coming-of-age story about one young man’s search for love, identity and justice. Additional numbers include the memorable “110th Street,” and “JAM/Hip Hop Bows,” a grand ode to The King of Pop choreographed by Rodney Hill and featuring music by Michael Jackson.
Dr. Harris founded RHAW in Philadelphia to serve urban youth. RHAW cultivates hip hop culture and preserves its legacy by demonstrating discipline and focus through performance, dance education, outreach programming and mentorship. In a recent article in Time Out New York, when asked why hip hop is such a universal movement language, Harris replied: “I don’t think it’s specifically about hip hop. Anything that allows you a freedom or a voice is universal.”
RHAW moves you to feel that freedom. And then some.