It's been a long time since hip-hop legend and ambassador Rennie Harris' work was seen in Richmond —- not since a performance by his company, Rennie Harris Puremovement, at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts' Fast Forward series in 1998. We're past due.
Thankfully, national treasure Phila-danco from Philadelphia will perform Harris' latest work, "Wake Up," in a diverse program at the University of Richmond's Modlin Center for the Arts.
A north Philadelphia native, Harris has dedicated himself to preserving and disseminating hip-hop culture and holds an honorary doctorate of fine arts in hip-hop from Bates College. Celebrating the 20th anniversary of his company, "Wake Up" explores the birth of hip-hop and its use as a tool through which dancers and communities can find their individual voices.
It's a distinctly good fit for Philadanco, which was founded as the Philadelphia Dance Company in 1970 by Joan Myers Brown, who sought to give voice to African-American dancers who were shut out from many local dance schools and companies.
Since then, Philadanco has grown to a company of national stature with a diverse repertory and a world-class group of dancers. A recent biography of Brown by dance and cultural scholar Brenda Dixon Gottschild — "Joan Myers Brown and the Audacious Hope of the Black Ballerina: a Biohistory of American Performance" — details the seeds of Philadanco and the inspiring story of its success against the odds.
Philadanco's Richmond program also includes a longtime audience favorite, "Suite Otis," a series of vignettes set to legendary Otis Redding classics, choreographed by George Faison in the 1970s for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; a 2012 work, "Moan," choreographed to the soulful music of Nina Simone by Ailey dancer-turned-rehearsal director Matthew Rushing; and "Enemy Behind the Gate," choreographed by Christopher Huggins to the music of minimalist composer Steve Reich. S
Philadanco performs Wednesday, Nov. 28, at 7:30 p.m., at the Modlin Center for the Arts. Tickets are $18-$36. For information, go to modlin.richmond.edu.