The pre-professional youth dance company Rennie Harris Awe-inspiring Works (RHAW) made its Miami debut Thursday in the presence of some of the city’s finest b-boys. Harris spoke briefly after the performance inside the Adrienne Arsht Center’s Carnival Studio Theater, acknowledging his company’s “Miami family” in attendance. (Harris works out of Philadelphia, home to both his main company, Rennie Harris Puremovement (RHPM), and to RHAW.) “They were a little nervous,” Harris said of his RHAW dancers, ages 16 to 23, on opening night.
It’s not that the dancers made mistakes or looked unsteady. Most just looked shy. Harris’s younger company spends the majority of its time training and providing education and outreach programs, and many of its members looked green on stage despite a handful of standout talents — notably, Shafeek Westbrook. Those aspiring to join Puremovement could gain strength in some skill areas and confidence in their ability to perform in a concert setting. Between the opening, “Continuum,” an RHPM work from 1997, and the closing, “RHAW Bows,” a playback of some of the evening’s highlights, the dancers had already grown visibly more comfortable.
Better still was the after party in the Arsht Center’s plaza: A b-boy battle kicked off by Miami’s Ground Zero Crew and Flipside Kings, MC’ed by Rudi Goblen with music by 99 Jamz radio, ramped up the performance energy. RHAW watched the more experienced dancers with appreciation before adding their two cents on the dance floor, and seemed to be finally enjoying themselves. It’s hard to believe they had any store of juice left over after their program, comprised of 10 pieces with one intermission and no costume changes, filled with head spins, arm balances, and tumbling as well as numerous styles of hip-hop dance.
RHAW’s program notes the company’s mission of “downplaying the abstract while pushing its dramatic aesthetic.” In works such as the two-part “Three B-Boys & a Girl,” choreographed by Harris, spatial relationships among the four performers — three men in one corner versus a woman alone in its diagonal opposite, then one man breaking away to join her — created more emotional resonance than the pieces that emphasized frontal, unison dancing. Throughout the evening, short solos emerging from a group in harmonious motion allowed the dancers to shine as individuals before being absorbed back into the crowd.
“Bohemian Rhapsody,” to the namesake music of Queen, shaped a soloist, Brandyn S. Harris, as being isolated from his community. Illustrating the lyric “Life had just begun, but now I’ve gone and thrown it all away” like flashes of memory by way of brief blackouts, Rennie Harris’s oldest son was held in a headlock by two dancers who then indicated handcuffing him in slow-motion images. Four others stood at the back of the stage as though in a police line-up — one of the few moments of direct address to the audience all evening. Brandyn Harris delivered a gestural solo standing, then repeated fragments of it on his knees. The rest of the company pointed fingers and followed him like an angry mob in a swirl around the stage. “Bohemian Rhapsody”’s poignant content was offset by the humor of exaggeration in the song — call and response of low and falsetto voices (“We will not let you go”/ “Let me go”) were paired with quick, accusatory hand motions in repetition by the movement choir.
Rennie Harris mentioned in his post-performance comments that the night’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” marked an experimental beginning to his planned full-evening work to Queen’s music. Among RHAW’s repertory pieces Thursday, “Rhapsody” most successfully pushed hip-hop’s dramatic possibilities and showcased the performers’ potential.
Carnival Studio Theater, Ziff Ballet Opera House at The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts (1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami). Ticket prices are $40 and $45. Call 305-949-6722 or visit arshtcenter.org. This weekend, Saturday at 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 and 7 p.m.