“Heaven,” originally composed by Rennie Harris, is a play performed through hip-hop interpretive dance set to Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” that brings an out-of-the-ordinary definition of storytelling to the stage.
Harris founded Rennie Harris PureMovement (RHPM) in 1992 with the goal of using the art of hip-hop dance as a form of expression and a vehicle for breaking the cultural connotation of hip-hop dancing. RHPM’s website states that the organization “deconstructs popular perception of this medium, expanding and challenging the boundaries and definition of hip-hop in general.” RHPM also hopes to “honor [hip-hop’s] history, explore its ideas and further its contributions to the surrounding community.”
The CU Dance and Theater Department put on one of Harris’ works, entitled “Heaven,” from April 19 to 22. The story revolves around a king obsessed with the idea of heaven and his jealous queen. She casts a spell on him and his men to confuse and disorient them before she kills them, so they can finally see the heaven they were so preoccupied with.
However, the story was not the most interesting part of this production. The play began with the stage covered in fog and a group of dancers, dressed completely in white, hugging the ground as they crawled across the stage. One dancer stood in the center of the group, following them across the stage. The set remained a fog-filled floor with six white sheets hanging from the ceiling. The girl standing in the group was revealed to be the queen, and soon her king was revealed on stage.
The play’s sound and music were some of the most interesting aspects of the production. For the first part of the play, Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” played over the speaker. A woman speaking Japanese and eventually English explained the plot to the audience. When the men were supposed to be confused, the music disoriented the audience as well.
At this point in the play, the hip-hop dancers progressed from slow, subtle movements into dramatic moves spanning the entire stage. They moved on and off of the stage, each doing his or her own individual moves that astounded the audience. The strength and talent of the dancers was revealed as they held moves that contorted their bodies and made classic hip-hop choreography look effortless as they flew across the stage.
The set remained bare throughout the play, allowing the audience to focus on the dancing, which was Harris’ objective. He wanted the plot and emotion in the play to be expressed through movement rather than narration.
Even though the play was only an hour long and the plot was expressed mostly through dance, the characters’ emotions were still perfectly portrayed to the audience. The audience found words weren’t needed to understand what the actors were thinking, because their movements expressed it perfectly, bringing in a new level of creativity.
As a whole, “Heaven” was impressive, and the dancers were talented. The creativity of the play makes for a one-of-a-kind experience for all attendees and notes a pivotal evolution in theater.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Ellie Patterson at Elizabeth.N.Patterson@colorado.edu.