Rennie Harris is returning to two artistic homes: the New Victory Theater on 42nd Street in New York and that 1970s pop music genre known as funk.
New Victory announced Thursday that Philadelphia’s hip-hop choreographer is creating a work for its 2017-18 season titled Funkedified. The semiautobiographical work, which is scheduled to run June 1-10, 2018, reaches back to the music the 53-year-old Harris grew up with in North Philly in the 1970s, when funk, psychedelia, and, later, dance-club music fatefully collided.
“It was a transition era into hip-hop,” Harris said Wednesday. “When you really listen to funk music now, you think, ‘I didn’t know they were saying that.’ I realize how embedded politics were in the words. And the music was amazing.
“I’m still developing the piece. I’m creating a frame and deciding where to go with it. Mainly, I want to deal with the music and dance and create a video landscape to handle the politics.”
Funkedified is one of three world premieres in New Victory’s 2017-18 season, which has 15 events and specializes in theater devoted to kids and families. Mary Rose Lloyd, director of artistic planning, said the season is consciously oriented toward “distinctly American voices, stories, and art, showcasing a range of disciplines from companies across the country.” That range encompasses Harris’ more street-level culture, but also Believe in Magic, an illusionist show by Jason Bishop, who is from Reading.
Harris has enjoyed an ongoing relationship with the New Victory, one of several crumbling theaters that was saved with the 1990s revival of once-derelict 42nd Street. His previous works for the New Victory over the theater’s 22 seasons include Rome & Jewels, Unlocked, and Continuum. “Mary and the New Victory allow my voice to stay in the work,” said Harris. “When people support me and let me do what I need to do as an artist, I support them.” So, for this production, he’ll filter out street language and other elements that might not be appropriate for young audiences.
The chances the show will be seen in Philadelphia are slim. Though Harris’ company, Rennie Harris Puremovement, tours all over the world, his work has had few Philadelphia presenters in recent years, his most recent Kimmel Center appearance being in conjunction with Philadanco. “This is our 25th-anniversary season,” said Harris. “Maybe we need to figure out how to create a season in Philadelphia to strengthen our representation.”