Hip-Hop: The Spirit of an Arts Movement

Rennie Harris and Harry Elam, Jr. with Mark Gonnerman

Thursday, January 20, 2011 | 7:30pm | Pigott Theater | Free and Open to All

Choreographer and dancer Rennie Harris was a pioneer in introducing hip-hop to the national and international stage. Central to Harris’s work is the philosophy that, contrary to stereotypical (and often negative) portrayals of hip-hop in the commercial media, the art form has a unique ability to express universal themes that extend beyond racial, religious, and economic boundaries.

Rennie Harris
Artistic Director and Choreographer
of Rennie Harris Puremovement in Philadelphia

Rennie Harris is well versed in the vernacular of hip-hop which includes the various techniques of B-boy (misnomer "breakdancing"), house dancing, stepping and other styles that have emerged spontaneously from the urban, inner cities of America like the North Philadelphia community in which he was raised. He has brought these "social" dances to the "concert" stage, creating a cohesive dance style that finds a cogent voice in the theater. He is a powerful spokesperson for the significance of "street" origins in any dance style. Intrigued by the universality of hip-hop, he seeks inspiration from other forms and performance art.

Since the age of 15, he has taught workshops and classes at many schools and universities including University of the Arts, UCLA, Columbia College and Bates College. He is a 1996 recipient of the Pew Fellowship in the Arts for Choreography and has received awards from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a Pew Repertory Development Initiative grant, the City of Philadelphia Cultural Fund and 1996 Philadelphia Dance Projects commission. Harris was voted one of the most influential people in the last one hundred years of Philadelphia history and has been compared to twentieth-century dance legend Alvin Ailey and Bob Fosse. He was also nominated for the Laurence Olivier Award and has been recently awarded the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts. His group of dancers and their infectious brand of movement have toured around the globe.

Rennie Harris is a 2010-11 Visiting Artist with Stanford's Institute for Diversity in the Arts. You can read more about him on the IDA website (by clicking here).


Harry J. Elam, Jr.
Olive H. Palmer Professor in the Humanities, the Robert and Ruth Halperin University Fellow for Undergraduate Education, Director of the Committee on Black Performing Arts, and Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education.

Professor Harry Elam's scholarly work focuses on contemporary American drama, particularly African American and Chicano theater. In addition to his scholarly work, he has directed theatre professionally for more than eighteen years. Most notably, he has directed several of August Wilson’s plays, including Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Two Trains Running, and Fences, the latter of which won eight Bay Area “Choice” Awards. He is the author of Taking it to the Streets: The Social Protest Theater of Luis Valdez and Amiri Baraka; The Past as Present in the Drama of August Wilson (winner of the 2005 Errol Hill Award from the American Society of Theatre Research); and co-editor of four books on theatrical arts. He is the outgoing editor of Theatre Journal and on the editorial boards of Atlantic Studies, Journal of American Drama and Theatre, and Modern Drama

Winner of multiple teaching awards at Stanford, he also received the Betty Jones Award for Outstanding Teaching from the American Theatre and Drama Society in 2006, the same year that he was inducted into the College of Fellows of the American Theatre in April 2006. He has taught at Stanford since 1990, and is the former director of the Introduction to the Humanities program. His younger brother, Keith, a rap artist known by his stage name, Guru (a backronym for Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal), died early last year.  


"Guru, Rapper Known for Social Themes Dies at 48," The New York Times (20 April 2010).

MARK GONNERMAN is founding director of the Aurora Forum.

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