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Rennie Harris Puremovement presents Lifted, a story of redemption told through the rhythms of hip-hop and the spiritual vocals of gospel.

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LIFTED creation summary video

Posted on July 25, 2017 by Rennie Harris

This video is a quick snippet of the creation of LIFTED which showcases choreography and my thoughts regarding process or creation.  RH

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Posted on July 22, 2017 by Rennie Harris

I started rehearsals with a small group of dancers as an effort to concentrate on phrases that would set the foundation for the work. After two weeks of intense rehearsals, I invited the rest of the company and additional dancers from New York and DC.  Collaborators received periodic updates on the choreography and where I was going with the work in general.   Music composer  Raphael Xavier updated the opening tracks as needed on a day to day basis via digital files.  Darrin Roos did the same thing. These collaborators were the most important as they were creating music and the vibe and aesthetic.   At this point, Steven Sapp and I met periodically on the phone and discussed his role as music director and by the second conference call, we decided he and his wife Mildred will serve as musical and script consultants.   Finally, we incorporated the choir of which we found in DC.  Headed up by the choir director Joshua Sommerville The Washington Performance Arts choir joined LIFTED and began to add traditional church melodies and nuances to composed house music, amazing! Two major creative shifts in the work happened as it was going together.  I decided to create voice overs for the dancers who had lines and monologs. I specifically wanted them to say their lines while the voice over was playing; to add a bit of a broadway-ish skewed perspective.    I also had a choreographic break through with the lead character Joshua.  The solo set on him actually set the tone and aesthetic for the entire work.  Now we had a bar to reach for as a whole.   In short, the pre-view went well and we are still working diligently on the work and are looking forward to the next mounting which will be at Whitebird Theater January 2018

Please check out the link below to see snipets of the creation and hear my thoughts on the work.


Rennie Harris, leader in the field of hip-hop dance, reaches out to new audiences with Lifted, which will feature gospel music and hip-hop dance theater to illuminate the spirit of House dance and themes of social justice onto concert stages. Loosely based on the story of Oliver Twist, Lifted follows a young black man who is surrounded and supported by his church community. The work depicts another facet of black culture—the spirituality of gospel music and the community of the church and the dance—a sorely needed depiction in this era of daily shootings and incarceration of black men. Lifted will merge the organic spiritual tapestry of House and gospel music to create an epic dance narrative realized through the complex footwork of House dance.

The storyline of Lifted revolves around a church community who attempts to avoid a band of thieves/pick pockets by casting them aside and labeling them as all bad with no hope of redemption. Joshua, the son of a prominent couple in the church is intrigued with B-boys and their lifestyle, but in order to be a part of the band of thieves he must be initiated by robbing a stranger. Unfortunately, the stranger he robs unknowingly is revealed to be his uncle. Shocked and disappointed, Joshua contemplates suicide to avoid both the shame from his family and the revenge of the thieves for failure to complete his initiation. In the eleventh hour, his uncle forgives him while members of the church emerge to save him just as the young band of thieves is about to exact revenge.

Lifted draws upon gospel music, which is one of the many musical genres to have influenced House and has deep roots in black oral and spiritual traditions. House dance, which is often referred to as going to “church”, has many parallels to gospel music. Within both cultures, there is the collective energy of the entire community, the physical transformation of protracted dancing (and in the case of gospel music, singing), and the vital aliveness of that heightened state. Led by musical directors, Steven Sapp and Mildred Ruiz-Sapp of UNIVERSES, the sound score for Lifted will merge the rhythms of House with the spiritual vocals of gospel to create an emotionally potent narrative.

Harris has built a career translating the street styles of hip-hop dance to the concert stage. Since the 1980’s, Harris has been working in House dance, one of the sub-genres of hip-hop dance that is comprised of fast and complex foot oriented steps combined with fluid movements in the torso. House is well known as a cultural unifying force within the club culture of Chicago and New York, being one of the most inclusive social dance styles within the hip-hop dance family. Thus, House is the perfect community-based dance language to tell this story of redemption and acceptance.

Project Media

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Features: Rennie Harris

Commissioned and Performed by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Set to gospel and House music along with poetic narration, Exodus underscores the crucial role of action and movement in effecting change. This work sample illustrates both the complex footwork of House rhythms as well as the integration of gospel music that will be reflected in Lifted. Additionally, the shift in tone (cue 0:50 seconds), illustrates Harris’ unique style of hip-hop dance narrative for which he uses the House vocabulary to reveal story and character development.

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Written by and performed by UNIVERSES, an international ensemble company of multi-disciplined writers and performers, and performed at Beyond Conventions, a Ford Foundation forum on human rights. Slanguage (Cue 0:22-1:24) is a full evening length work that synthesizes traditional theater with poetry, storytelling, rap, gospel, jazz riffs, bluesy laments, Spanish boleros, and other poetic forms, to paint a rich portrait of the sights and sounds of New York City. Representative of the company’s distinctive blend of vocals, spoken word and poetry.

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Features: Rennie Harris

“Heaven: A B-Girl Ballet” refashions Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” to challenge the possibilities of hip-hop theatre. This love story features women and the breaking movement vocabulary, which is one of the most physical, athletic and masculine forms, to highlight the role of women in hip-hop dance. Heaven is another example of how Harris uses hip-hop vocabulary to construct a narrative.

Start and End Dates



Washington, District Of Columbia

2 updates
Last update on July 25, 2017

Project Created By

Recognized by the United States Department of Education as a leading ambassador for the art of hip-hop dance, choreographer Rennie Harris has received numerous awards in his career, which spans nearly four decades. Harris is known for having brought “social” dances to the “concert” stage and creating a cohesive dance style that finds a cogent…

In Collaboration With

Musical Director
Ashland, Oregon
Musical Director
Ashland, Oregon


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