Friday, March 1, 2024

Rennie Harris’ ‘Rome and Jewels’: Retaining hallowed works very important

Veterans Memorial Auditorium, Windfall, RI.
November 18, 2023.

Kathleen Pletcher, the Government Inventive Director of FirstWorks RI, launched the work about to take the stage – Rennie HarrisRome and Jewels (2000). She defined the way it’s an adaptation of true classics: Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and its extra fashionable iteration West Aspect Story. The work’s themes and truths stay extremely related and impactful, she affirmed. 

Underscoring that affect on the right here and now, she additionally famous how the performers had spent the day earlier than in native faculties — educating the subsequent era on some fundamentals of type and course of, people who helped convey the approaching work to life. The viewers, clapping rapturously, appeared to grasp the significance of that affect. 

Some would possibly declare that the classics have to be preserved as one thing sacred. Others would possibly advocate for the sort of iterating and updating that retains them talking clearly into the trendy day. Rome and Jewels demonstrates what the latter perspective can nurture: a piece that dares to make use of the daring stylings of sudden creative genres, to talk timeless truths in languages that fashionable audiences already converse. 

The very first thing we within the viewers noticed was a metropolis skyline (authentic visible design by Howard Goldcranz, visible design by Ryder Palmere), skyscrapers’ sharp angles juxtaposing the smooth gradients of a watercolor sundown. We quickly met some intriguing characters, their zippy quips starting to construct character, narrative, and a way of the narrative’s stakes. There can actually be some colourful characters within the “hood,” these quips essential for maintaining “cred” and expressing “beef.” These artists appear to deeply know the world of the road, they usually invited us into it with this work. 

Talking of that dialogue, the multi-modal nature of this work struck me fairly early on; dialogue, motion and music all got here collectively to construct the world through which this story grew and lived. In that I felt a kinship with hip hop itself – with its separate, and equally elementary, parts (dance, rap/emceeing, deejaying and graffiti). Evocative reds and shadows throughout the stage (authentic lighting design by Pamela Hobson, lighting design by Julie Ballard and Elyjah Kleinsmith), and separate colour palettes for warring “crews” (“avenue” equivalents of the Montagues and Capulets) visually scaffolded that world. 

Rhythmic and breathy speech, for its half, engaged me simply as thoughtfully-crafted hip hop can. I additionally chuckled a bit, extremely entertained, to listen to Shakespeare soliloquies – proper from the pages of Romeo and Juliet – spoken on this hip hop idiom. Fairly than cheapen these hallowed phrases, it introduced me into them in a contemporary, vibrant approach. Dialogue ping-ponged forwards and backwards between fashionable and classical speech. That blend was by some means cohesive and pleasing moderately than discordant.  

Music, from (in fact) hip hop to basic rock to extra fashionable rock, felt simply as vibrantly eclectic (sound design and musical course from Darrin Ross). Motion mirrored the extensive stylistic spectrum of “hip hop dance” — sluggish, steady to accented and lightning-quick; strikingly robust and athletic to spotlighting the sublest nuances of gesture and articulation; constructed by the neighborhood of the cypher (a circle of dancers) or the kinetic spirit of only one mover. 

The performers might floor deep in gymnastic breakdancing feats simply as easily as they may transfer via extra lifted pop/lock vocabulary. They excelled in any respect components of that motion spectrum. That excellence didn’t need to generate one thing overly esoteric, scholarly or abstruse to the purpose of being inaccessible. A spirit of playful and spontaneous creativity pervaded all of it — once more, that which imbues bigger hip hop tradition. 

I additionally seen, pretty early on within the work, how Harris selected to not bodily symbolize “Jewels”: Juliet in Shakespeare’s story and Maria in its 1950’s rendition. Fairly, she was an off-stage presence. I contemplated Harris’ intentions behind that selection (certainly, such apparent decisions have intention behind them, for every artist); maybe, in Harris’ imaginative and prescient, Jewels is extra of a super of candy, smooth love, full of heat and wonder. 

Afterward within the work, a projection of a rose stuffed the backdrop, opening after which closing its curvaceous petals. This picture was maybe a visible illustration of that pressure of affection, that concept of softness and nurturance, on this world of the road. In such methods Harris infused a postmodern sensibility — of thriller, summary illustration and interpretation within the eye of the beholder. 

On the identical time, the work remained grounded in one thing very actual, of the artistic pressure of the second over something present in a textbook. Furthermore, the artists introduced the viewers proper into that artistic second. The smoke of dry ice ensured that every one of our senses have been engaged within the uncooked feeling of the story at hand. DJs, manipulating information not solely with their fingers however in a single part with their tooth (simply wow!), referred to as us to clap and holler alongside. We had no selection however to be proper there within the rhythm with them.   

Sadly, such artistic pressure couldn’t stem tragedy born of violence. The killing of Rome’s shut pal Merc (mirroring Shakespeare’s Mercutio) set off a sequence of occasions resulting in the deaths of each Rome and Jewels. Harris’ narrative trimmed away most of the plot factors of Shakespeare’s basic to successfully get to the center of the story. One would possibly level to the closing phrases of a smart, older character for that narrative coronary heart: violence solely breeds extra violence, and in that atmosphere none of us are untouched. 

With present world conflicts being what they’re, rooted in a lot older tribal animosity, I assumed again to Pletcher’s opening phrases – how well timed this timeless story stays. It turns into solely the extra so by the braveness and intentional creativity of artists like Rennie Harris and his collaborators, resulting in the delicate ferocity of their Rome and Jewels

They’ll set an instance for different creatives maybe compelled by the classics, however cautious of eradicating a protecting mud cowl and throwing the “guidelines” to the wind. These tales don’t need to be so valuable. As a substitute, if retellings are made with loving intentionality and consciousness of the world because it at present is, they’ve so, a lot extra to provide. 

By Kathryn Boland of Dance Informa.

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