At Oz Arts Nashville

Puremovement in OZ

Puremovement’s Rennie Harris

Oz Arts Nashville kicked off their 2021-2022 season with a residency in October from Rennie Harris’s Puremovement ensemble, an energized blend of street dance and hip hop choreography morphed into staging and narrative structures. A lively atmosphere pervaded the venue before showtime, purple and blue lights warming up the gently rising stands as classic early 2000s hip hop played at a comfortable level (Lights, Camera, Action; Roc the Mic; and of course C.R.E.A.M. all making a sonic appearance). The audience of all ages reacted with a rowdy noise of approval as Executive & Artistic Director Mark Murphy took to the stage to announce the full season of in-person programming and residencies.

With introductions out of the way and mood set, the following hour flew by. The 6 core dancers of the Puremovement group, gathered from around the globe, alternated in the spotlight. Beginning the show center stage in a ring with a bit of demonstrative introduction of each member’s physical style, they cycled on and off stage executing Harris’s unique vision. While at times unison movement in group numbers was precisely executed, other moments would allow for individual expression, from flashier footwork and aerobic breakdance maneuvers to more contemporary dance fluidity. Even a splash of what appeared to be voguing popped up a couple times, which fit with the house music in a couple of the selections. As the pieces progressed, later movements of the “Nuttin’ But a Word” suite mapped out pairs and trios of dancers utilizing the full expanse of the stage in spotlit pools of light. In between several of the movements, video clips of Rennie himself played, briefly elaborating on the desire to progress street dance and avoid stagnation. For those more informed viewers & readers, the suite incorporated specifically elements of Campbell locking, house, hip-hop and B-boying. [Aside from attending a couple b-boying Battle@Buffalo competitions as a spectator up in new York state years ago, I was hardly a keenly discerning eye, the finer delineations between styles escaping me but still an obviously varied language of rhythm & movement on display].

Joining the Puremovement dancers at the outset of the show and then making a longer appearance in the last few pieces, another group of 4 dancers, The Hoodlockers, weaved into the staging, adding their distinct flavor of pulsing locking movements from New Jersey to the melting pot of dance on display.

Musical selections also were varied considerably, from early hip hop grooves to more electronic-influenced beats, and even veering into jazzy mixed-meter with a piece choreographed over Al Jarreau’s “Blue Rondo A La Turk”. As some of the more subdued musical selections by Cinematic Orchestra created a temporarily less energized atmosphere, some key lighting changes within pieces helped to set the stage in a wash of reds or stark blues & whites.

With some of the pieces on the program flowing into each other with hardly a pause, it was easy to get lost in the pacing. Indeed, the ending came as a surprise, thinking there were still a piece or two left after attempting to follow along and jot notes next to titles in the flyer, but a glance at the watch showed an hour and fifteen minutes had passed in a snap. As the audience filtered out into the lobby and parking lots of a still-warm early fall night, a buzz of happy chatter rehashed the night’s performance, a cohesive and visually stunning way to begin afresh a new season of arts & entertainment in Nashville.

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