The Museum of Contemporary Art presents Rennie Harris LIFTED, a moving two act evening length work about the power of gospel and dance to turn a life around
Metaphor and Meaning
In the program notes, LIFTED choreographer Rennie Harris says “Movement is how we worship life. It always has been.” Harris shows us that in his evening-length work, by using dance as both a metaphor, storytelling mechanism, and a means of building a community filled with joy through hip hop.
The performance begins with the scene “God’s House,” the stage set with choral risers, pews, stained glass window projections as the backdrop, and a raised podium where the character Rev CJ, played by Carl Robinson Jr., begins to tell a biblical story about redemption and how the church and worship set a person who has strayed from their faith back on the right track.
Harris uses various hip hop dance styles to modernize the biblical tale on stage following a young church goer named Joshua, who, after suffering from the loss of his parents, finds himself tangled up with a gang of pickpockets. Through movement, prayer, and the help of the Reverend and congregation, Joshua is able to find salvation and set himself on the right path again. This hip hop dance theater performance uses not only storytelling, but also rapping, gospel songs, movement, and mixed mediums to modernize a biblical tale while bringing up issues of political and social injustice that are so prevalent in the news today.
The individual dancers of Harris’ company and the community dancers included in the performance each bring their own flare and style to the stage. Joshua Culbreath, who plays the lead character-- also named Joshua--contorts his body, spins upside down, and glides across the floor on his hands and knees with grace and emotional intensity, especially in his solo performed to I Need You Now with vocals by Carl Robinson Jr.
The trio of pickpockets who try to recruit Joshua also bring their personalities out in their movement with small but intricate torso and stepping motions and facial expressions. In large ensemble scenes, the personalities of the individual dancers shine through their movements, each dancer showing off their strengths while moving together as a group. The individualism that makes each dancer unique is exciting for this writer as others with each dancer catching our eye at different times. This also helps us relate to the dancer, making it more realistic, as if the scenes portrayed on the stage could exist off the stage as well.
Building Community at the Museum of Contemporary Art
LIFTED connects with the audience on a deep level because it draws on personal experiences. Not only do the dancers’ movements connect with the audience and make us want to groove along, but the choir from St. Benedict the African Catholic Church puts the community center stage. The choir performs songs like Praise Him and Amazing Grace and encourages the audience to sing along. Soon, the whole audience is swaying and singing and the choir members who belt the tunes with such intensity and beauty receive cheers and a standing ovation from the audience.
The ensemble numbers where the choir and dancers come together are joyous and upbeat, featuring fast movements of the feet and arms, while the dancers stay in time with each other and the choir. The audience can see the community that has been built onstage during the process of putting this show together and becomes immersed in that relationship themselves.
LIFTED was part of the Museum of Contemporary Art’s series this August focusing on Black creativity in music and dance. For more information about the MCA performances and upcoming events visit the MCA website.
About the Author:
Hayley Ross graduated from Ohio University in 2016 with degrees in Dance and Journalism. Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Hayley began dancing at the age of four. She has studied Ballet, Pointe, Modern, Jazz, Contemporary, and African dance and regularly can be found taking dance and Pilates at Chicago's Lou Conte Dance Studio. Hayley has completed internships at CityScene Media Group, OhioDance, the Chautauqua Institution, and American Dance Festival. She currently works in the Marketing department at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago as the Marketing Manager. Learn more about Hayley at hayleyross.weebly.com