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Rennie Harris will return to Lafayette for the second time this school year, performing in concert and interacting with Lafayette students and faculty, high school students, and the public in a residency April 1-4.

Harris will begin developing his next full-length work, Facing Mekka, a sequel to his Rome & Jewels, which was shown at Lafayette’s Williams Center for the Arts in September 2000. He will perform the solo dance that will be the core section of this work-in-progress 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 3, at the Williams Center. Harris will give a spoken introduction and invite audience interaction.

Tickets cost $10 and may be purchased by calling the Williams Center box office at 610-330-5009.

Several events in the residency are free and open to the public. Harris will hold an open rehearsal 7 p.m. Monday in the Williams Center auditorium, followed by a conversation about Facing Mekka, which is inspired by the Black Muslim movement in America and includes elements of hip-hop and butoh.

Harris will meet with the Stage Direction class taught by Michael O’Neill, director of College Theater, 11 a.m. Wednesday in the Williams Center’s black box theater. He also will meet with a Dance Composition class at the Muhlenberg Center for the Arts 4:30-6 p.m. to discuss how choreography is made and the hip-hop aesthetic that will inform Facing Mekka.

On Wednesday, Harris will lead a discussion of his work at a noon brown bag in Interfaith Chapel, Hogg Hall. Lunch may be brought or purchased for $3.

In addition to these public events, Harris will meet with a Lafayette dance class Monday morning and an Islam class Monday afternoon. In the evening, he will interact with Lafayette students at a reception for art majors and members of Association of Black Collegians.

On Wednesday, Harris will visit with the African Religion in the Americas class in the morning and Lafayette student and faculty artists in the evening. The following morning, he will share lunch with students in the Marquis Hall Foundation Room.

Before the lunch, Harris will visit Easton High School for an open forum with students 10 a.m. Thursday.

Harris served an earlier residency at Lafayette in September, when he presented Illadelph Legends, which pays homage to the culture Harris’ choreography honors.

“Harris, well known for his boundary-pushing synthesis of hip-hop and modern dance, is also committed to treating the vital, evolving hip-hop dance scene as a serious tradition, deserving of documentation,” the Philadelphia Inquirer stated in a performance review.

“If Rennie Harris PureMovement were any hotter, it would incinerate before your eyes,” wrote the Village Voice.

Rennie Harris is committed to “providing audiences with a sincere view of the essence and spirit of hip-hop rather than the commercially exploited stereotype portrayed by the media.”

In addition to performing at the Annenberg Theatre and Painted Bride Art Center in its native Philadelphia, PureMovement has toured the U.S. as part of Chuck Davis’ Dance Africa America. The company has performed and led residencies in the U.S. and abroad at such venues as the Kennedy Center, Luckman Theatre in Los Angeles, Boston’s Dance Umbrella, Spoleto Dance Festival, Colorado Dance Festival, Bates Dance Festival, Parc de La Villette in Paris, Celebration of African Heritage in Bahia, Brazil, the Holland Dance Festival, and the Nervi Festival in Italy. The company received a 1998-1999 National Dance Project grant for its Rome & Jewels production, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Broadway’s West Side Story, which made its way to the Williams Center last year.

Harris grew up in the inner city of North Philadelphia. He started dancing at eight years old by emulating dance moves from the TV program “Soul Train.” He was 14 when the Smithsonian Institution included him in a folk dance program. Harris began dancing professionally at age 15 and touring at 19. The year he formed his current company, he also created Endangered Species, a solo work.

A dancer, artistic director, and choreographer, Harris is well versed in the vernacular of hip-hop, which includes the various techniques of b-boy (often labeled by the misnomer of “break dancing”), house dancing, stepping, and other styles that have emerged spontaneously from the urban, inner cities of America like the North Philadelphia community in which he was raised. He has brought these social dances to the “concert” stage, creating a cohesive dance style that finds a cogent voice in the theater. He is a powerful spokesperson for the significance of street origins in any dance style.

Intrigued by the universality of hip-hop, Harris seeks inspiration from other forms, including Angola and Brazilian Capoeira, West African dance, and performance art. As a pioneer in performing, choreographing, and teaching African-American hip-hop, he toured the country and abroad with the first organized hip-hop tour in America, the “Fresh Festival” starring Run DMC, Fatboys, Curtis Blow, and Whodini, as well as working with Kool Moe Dee, West Street Mob, Salt ’N’ Pepa, and other noted hip hop stars. Since the age of 15, Harris has taught workshops and classes at many schools and universities, including University of the Arts, UCLA, Columbia College, and Bates College.

Harris was a 1996 recipient of the Pew Fellowship in the Arts for Choreography and has received awards from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a Pew Repertory Development Initiative grant, the City of Philadelphia Cultural Fund, and the 1996 Philadelphia Dance Projects commission. He was also nominated for a Cal State Herb Alpert Award in 1996 and 1997. He has recently been voted one of the most influential people in the last 100 years of Philadelphia history.

The two Harris residency programs at Lafayette have been funded by a New Directions grant from Pennsylvania Artists on Tour, developed and funded by the Vira I. Heinz Endowment; the William Penn Foundation; the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency; and the Pew Charitable Trusts; and administered by Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation. The New Directions grants place major Pennsylvania artists in communities for extended periods of artistic growth and community interaction.

The 2001-02 Performance Series at Lafayette is supported in part by gifts from Friends of the Williams Center for the Arts; by provisions of the Alan and Wendy Pesky Artist-in-Residence Program, the James Bradley Fund, and the Ed Brunswick Jazz Fund; and by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, Pennsylvania Performing Arts on Tour, and New England Foundation for the Arts.

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