Rennie Harris PureMovement | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Rennie Harris PureMovement

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Some ideas have a Platonic perfection, and a hip-hop Romeo and Juliet is one of them. Choreographer-director Rennie Harris not only came up with the concept but brilliantly realizes it in Rome & Jewels (though he acknowledges inspiration from a few other sources, notably the 40-year-old West Side Story). For this 90-minute piece Harris divides his dancers into two rival gangs, the break-dancing Monster Qs and hip-hop artists the Caps. Rome's love interest, Jewels, never appears onstage; unlike Shakespeare's play, this hip-hop "opera" is less about young love than it is about what it means to be a man in a culture that looks on love as weakness. Together Harris and dramaturge/beat-box artist Arville "Ozzie" Jones combine ghetto talk, lines from Shakespeare, a score of new and remixed music by Darrin Ross, and lots of fine dancing to make the dangerous, volatile world of Romeo and Juliet come alive, a world in which sudden love and sudden death are completely convincing. Rap is surprisingly compatible with Shakespeare's metered lines and archaic language, each style of performance poetry enhancing and enlivening the other; and Rome is a living, breathing character--a clever, charming, funny, but not completely sympathetic player who comes to recognize his own humanity and the humanity of others. Also remarkable is the way Harris gives the hip-hop and break-dancing vocabularies (which we come to see have more similarities than differences) a wide range of feeling, from romantic passion to anger to deep sadness. Rome & Jewels is rough, jagged, violent, and sexually explicit, a challenging but deeply affecting work that marries the quintessential dead white guy and contemporary African-American culture. Museum of Contemporary Art, theater, 220 E. Chicago, 312-397-4010. Through March 4: Friday-Saturday, 8 PM; Sunday, 4 and 8 PM. $16-$20.

--Laura Molzahn

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