Dancing in the RHAW

Rennie Harris Awe-inspiring Works put on a performance Sept. 30 that, while not exactly what I would call “awe-inspiring,” made for a damn fine show, especially for a company of pre-professional dancers.
When I learned that RHAW was going to be performing a hip-hop dance routine on campus, I had no idea what to expect. I had seen street performers do routines in New York City, but they don’t exactly have the benefit of an auditorium and the lighting and sound system that comes with it.

Take it from me, these special effects help. A lot.

It’s not as if RHAW had a really elaborate set up. They had a big rectangular background piece for color projection, some loudspeakers and a fog machine. Nothing fancy, but a sharply coordinated use of these effects adds a hell of a lot of excitement and atmosphere to people flailing and flopping about, however well choreographed.

And it was. We can thank Dr. Rennie Harris for that, as he was the primary choreographer of the first five routines and a co-choreographer of the finale.

The choreography was particularly impressive when the whole crew was up on stage, dancing in sync with one another or in complementary variations. Especially early on in the performance, the movement of all the dancers was really tight and well synchronized. They definitely lost some of this cohesiveness as they entered the fourth, fifth, and sixth numbers, but regained it again for the finale.

As a layman, I won’t be able to do the various forms of hip-hop dance performed proper descriptive justice. What I do know is that it looked really exhausting. They were drenched with sweat by the end, so it must have been. In some routines their bodies moved with smooth and flowing grace, while in others it was mechanical and robotic. Mix that in with some madcap backflips and dizzying breakdance moves, and perhaps you’ll have some approximation of what they were doing. They definitely lost some of their edge after the intermission, but when they were in the zone it was really impressive.

The music was often a highlight, although it was awfully loud near the stage. At times I could feel my eardrums bottoming out with distortion due to the sheer volume of sound pumping out of the loudspeakers. However, when I was able to properly hear the music, I thought it was very enjoyable. Predominantly, it was a range of funk infused hip-hop. Lots of saxophone and funk vocals. “Feel The Power,” their newest routine, was without a doubt my favorite. The screaming electric guitar mixed with fast beats and some of the most dynamic dancing of the night made it really stand out. “El Barrio” was another routine with quality music. Reminiscent of something you might hear on a Santana album, I thought it was a shame that the dancing didn’t quite live up to the energy of the music.

At points it was obvious that some of the dancers were operating at a higher level of skill than the others. The bald guy—who I presume to be Brandyn Scott Harris, the son of Rennie Harris—had The Robot absolutely nailed, and who can forget the beardless guy with dreadlocks who made backflips and head spins seem totally effortless?

Except for the tangible lull in the middle of the performance, RHAW certainly had high entertainment value. While this was RHAW’s first appearance at JSC, I certainly hope it won’t be their last.