I was honored to have witnessed “Flash” an intense, brilliant dance performance last night. It reminded me of how some attendees share their sex memoirs at the Salon, receiving confirmation from the audience and healing in the process. Rennie spoke about his piece after the performance and mentioned the same effect. There is a video of the piece at link, but honestly it doesn’t come close to what I experienced last night.
Review in The Philadelphia Tribune
“Flash”: Moving Convo Across Cultures
Bobbi Booker Tribune Staff Writer
Imagine, if you may, a “conversation” between two dancers — both of distinctly different backgrounds — who are merging styles of their artform for a 45-minute performance. This weekend, Philly’s own dance icon Rennie Harris will join choreographer Michael Sakamoto with their dance theater duet, “Flash.”
This “conversation,” if you may, started years ago on campus at UCLA, where Sakamoto was pursuing his Ph.D. and Harris was teaching. Having studied both hip-hop and Harris as a part of his graduate research, Sakamoto began the dialogue. The more their rapport grew, the more the artists realized the commonalities not only between their dance forms, but between their own lives. The piece features Harris and Sakamoto using their respective disciplines, hip-hop and Butoh, to juxtapose cultural backgrounds (Japanese-American and African-American), personalities and struggles for self-acceptance in the midst of crisis.
“This is the performance I’ve been waiting my whole career to do,” said Sakamoto.
Both hip-hop and Butoh were born from marginalized, urban subcultures, each using a philosophical approach to building cultural identity through dance. Specifically, Butoh rose out of an occupied, post-WWII Tokyo in the late 1950s as a way for dancers to grapple with their rapidly westernizing culture. Characterized by grotesque imagery, absurd environments and hyper-controlled movement, Butoh is a hybrid between dance and theater.
“When you see old-school Butoh dancers,” said Sakamoto, “they are performing their self-perceived chaos.”
Before he was an innovator in contemporary Butoh, Sakamoto was a Asian-American kid, growing up in L.A., popping and locking to the sound of James Brown. He launched his performance career in 1994 as a soloist in the Rachel Rosenthal Company. Today, Butoh serves as the philosophical foundation of all of his works.
Hip-hop emerged from African-American and Latino communities in the late 1960s as what Harris considers a contemporary indigenous form — one expressing universal themes that extend beyond race, class and religion. In 1992, Harris founded Rennie Harris Puremovement, a hip-hop dance company dedicated to preserving and disseminating hip-hop culture through workshops, classes, lectures, residencies and public performances. The North Philadelphia native’s most famous works (e.g., “Rome and Jewels,” “Facing Mekka”) have garnered him international recognition and countless accolades, including three Bessie Awards, two Black Theater Alvin Ailey Awards and a Herb Alpert award. Harris started teaching hip-hop at the age of 15 with the Smithsonian Institution, and as a part of his efforts to educate the world about hip-hop, he passes on his historical knowledge of the dance through performances all over the world.
Although hip-hop hit the world in a big way in the 1980s, in an earlier interview Harris pointed to a very early film clip where “I saw cats in the 1800s doing the same thing we’re doing right now.”
Harris continued: “People confuse the youth culture and the urban culture. I’m almost 50 years old, and I’m a hip-hop dancer. It’s not a youth thing.”
Attendees of “Flash” can expect to experience an element of spontaneity, based on the dancers’ shared prerogative. Though the general structure of the show is static, their movements are completely impulsive, creating a true sense of a dialogue between them. According to Sakamoto, “[Rennie and I] work really well together because we both approach performance as structured improvisation.”
Through hip-hop, Butoh, and the shared experience of the two dancers, attendees will come to understand crisis, as Michael Sakamoto put it, “is an opportunity for change.”
“Flash” featuring Harris and Sakamoto comes to the Painted Bride Art Center, 230 Vine St., Saturday and Sunday at 8 p.m. For ticket information, call (215) 925-9914 or log onto paintedbride.org to purchase.
Tonight, last performance in Philadelphia at the Painted Bride. https://paintedbride.org/events/flash-hip-hop-butoh-dance-theater-featuring-rennie-harris-michael-sakamoto/