Reviewed by Phyllis Goldman
Presented by Rennie Harris Puremovement at the Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Ave., NYC, Sept. 26-Oct. 1.
Rennie Harris, Philadelphia-born and inner-city bred, steps on stage at the Joyce Theater and asks, "How's everyone doing tonight?" It is a gracious opening to a lively and distinctive program. Rome & Jewels is a hip-hop treatment of the oft-told Shakespeare tale, choreographed with style and commitment, and staged in a concert form that has not been seen before.
Harris has taken a rigorous, but relatively unstructured, vocabulary, formalized it enough to teach to a company of superb performers, and placed it within the confines of the proscenium arch. He has designed fully realized entrances and exits and followed a narrative (this is the somewhat shaky part), and he has rehearsed his company with an exactness that allows the positive street energy of this form to remain intact, while he strives to keep the story rolling. The "Jets" and "Sharks" of Harris' imagination are best when they are "at" each other. Trouble begins when the rap narrative takes over, and the dancers are spewing out words at jet-like speed, which the viewer is asked to fully appreciate.
The force and speed of rap becomes a little exclusionary if structured only to be comprehended by its contemporaries. Since the character of "Jewels" resides in the imagination of "Rome," and is not a flesh-and-blood dancer one can follow, the harsh flow of words becomes doubly difficult.
Rodney Mason is perfectly cast as "Rome," moving with a powerful grace, and speaking with a rich, velvety voice. He skims the floor, moving stealthily through deep, low-down choreography, yet sparing energy for his lengthy lines of narrative. The sound design or score, produced and composed for Bad Boi Productions by Darrin Ross, relentlessly pummels the ear. The conscience of the piece (often bordering on preachiness) is delivered by the "narrator/me," Ozzie Jones, who weaves in and out of the action in an effort to keep order.
There is much richness in Harris' piece, but it needs to quiet down in spots, so that both dancers and audience can relax and enjoy the intense emotional and physical output of the whole.