Hip hop history comes to campus for weekend

By Liz deAvila

Hip-hop is everywhere – in commercials, movies, music videos and now onstage at the Krannert Center for Performing Arts.

The Krannert Center will present Facing Mekka, a 90-minute journey through the roots of hip-hop dance performed by Rennie Harris Puremovement. Billed as a performance of high-energy hip-hop dance, live music and visual images, Facing Mekka can be seen at 7:30 p.m. tonight and Saturday night at the Tryon Festival Theater in the Krannert Center. Ticket information is available online at http://www.krannertcenter.com.

Stephen Cummins, assistant director for artistic services at Krannert, saw a workshop of Facing Mekka about a year and a half ago and still remembers the event clearly.

“I’ve spent 30 minutes in a theater with this piece one time, and I was thoroughly moved,” Cummins said. “It can be a very intense experience.”

Cummins described the performance as the deconstruction of hip-hop and the exploration of its roots. It mixes together musical and dance influences from around the world, including Cuba, India, Africa and Asia. The show uses different forms of visual and sound media, such as live musicians, a DJ, traditional drumming, beat box and a recorded blend of rhythms. Various historical and dramatic images are projected on a screen on stage as well.

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    Cummins described the dancers as amazing, with the ability to give the choreographed dances an improvisational feel. He said Rennie Harris, director and choreographer of Facing Mekka, allows the dancers to embellish or check their movements, depending on what they feel.

    “He’s (Harris) taken street hip-hop, beat boxing – those urban dance forms – and taken them into dance halls across the country,” Cummins said.

    Facing Mekka is Harris’ creation, who founded the Puremovement dance company in Philadelphia in 1992. The show premiered in 2003 and the cast now features 17 dancers, three vocalists and musicians, according to the Puremovement Web site.

    “To me, Mekka means ‘self’ or ‘dance,'” Harris said in a press release on March 21. “It’s about coming to terms with who I am. I traced the lineage of hip-hop from Aboriginal, Brazilian capoeria and African ceremonial dance all the way to our current urban styles.”

    Darrin Ross, musical composer, sound engineer and touring director for Facing Mekka, said for him, each performance is a spiritual journey that takes him on highs and lows and leaves him with feelings of joy, of pain and of relief.

    Ross said the process of composing the music for the show involved “deconstructing” music, which is searching for one sound to build off of to create a new work. He used the example of a piece in the show called “Breath,” which begins with just the sound of breathing and is layered with other musical sounds and instruments to create something that “makes sense musically.”

    “The feeling you get from it is incredible,” Ross said.

    Ross mentioned another piece called “Water,” which combines congas and a flute. He described the piece as having “sonic peaks and dives.”

    “It gets mellow and very spiritual,” Ross said. “Very serene.”

    Before both performances of Facing Mekka, Krannert offers a free Concert Prep at 6:45 p.m., which introduces the show’s concepts and content. Tonight’s and tomorrow night’s speakers will be the Reverend Harold Davis and University Afro-American Studies Professor William Patterson, respectively. Audience members also can speak with the artists following each performance, according to a press release.

    “What Rennie Harris has produced is something folks want to see,” Patterson said. “To turn around and be industrial in something they know and love, I think that’s exceptional.”

    Patterson has never seen a Facing Mekka performance and said he is very excited about seeing the show. He encourages attendees to come without a pre-conceived notion of the show.

    “Just come with an open mind and live the experience,” Patterson said.