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Meanwhile, at the ADF..., Funkedified by Lorenzo (Rennie) Harris does not disappoint. Instead, it elevates. The multimedia work featuring highlights of locking, popping, waving, voguing, breaking and various 1970s social dances performed by an unstoppable collaboration of the Hood Lockers, Puremovement, and the live band Invincible, had the entire Carolina Theatre hooting, hollering, grooving, and cheering. I would have danced in the aisles if not for being utterly transfixed on the artistry, precision, and pure joy exploding all over the stage in front of me. I didn’t want to miss a second.
Head spins, breaking, creeping animation, aerials, flips, isolations, arm stands, and groovy, playful top rocks were not only well-featured throughout but also comprehensively flowed in and out of every highlighted moment, whether a brief solo or group dance. I even saw a few seconds of the floss as the group nodded to both historical and current trends. Harris narrated a small section about a Philly-based '60s footwork style called "GQ" that even I had never heard of: think smooth stepping with a top rock groove.
And then there was the live funk band Invincible (also known as the Rennie Harris Funkedified Band), led by the energetic funk master Doron Lev. I was worried they'd get lost in the dance mix, but with featured selections from legends James Brown, George Clinton, Dennis Coffrey, and more, the keyboard, bass, guitar, saxophone, trumpet, and drums served as the foundation of funk that ushered us through celebration like the best master of ceremonies you've ever heard.
Other highlights include Josh Culbreth's rapid breaking backed by a Samir Zarif sax solo that made your face crunch up in the same manner as described in Harris' narration of what funk does to a person. He also spoke to what funk is for the African American community: it represents both life and death. In funk, you hear about both sides.
As Leigh "Breeze-Lee" Foaad both lifted and broke my heart with his stirring dance solo, guitarist Matt Dickey walked away from the band to join Foaad as the two further drove "Maggot Brain" (by Funkadelic) to an emotional punch in the gut. As an aspiring guitarist and music fan, I was particularly moved to see a guitarist walk out to center stage with a dancer, performing as if he and the guitar are dancers, too. Foaad's flowing isolations morphing into tension-laden ripples audibly moved the audience and left me utterly captivated. Later, Harris continued by asking "What could be better than popping and breaking?" The answer: Levitating. Plenty of faces crumpled in awe as Shafeek WestBrook levitated over the stage with perfectly synced successions of backflip after backflip.
The multimedia aspect of this piece fostered an educational timeline of social dances through the 70s. Josh Culbreath is literally passed along a line of old school lockers in his contrasting black tracksuit, illustrating street dance turning professional, yet wrestling to find legitimacy in its varied and evolving forms. The political and social turmoil of 1970s Philadelphia featured video clips of Black protestors attacked by the police juxtaposed with the childhood innocence of a city that founded funk. This was much more subtle and understated than I expected, and at first, I wanted it to be explored a bit further. With more contemplation, I thought it actually made the overall Funkedified message more powerful to show that dance preserved, protected, and escorted the African American community through the decades that followed.
Women are rarely highlighted in the historical context of funk, so I loved that Funkedified featured the incredible skills of Katia Cruz, Tatianna Desardouin, Mai Le Ho, and Yuko Tanaka, each with a demanding stage presence that ordained their own diverse and unique individual styles. While I loved the musical selections of Bobby Womack, Martin Soveig, Mandrill, and gorgeous interpolation of George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," I'd love to see continued additions of female funk influences in both the selections and live band.
I overheard a few comments about the stage lighting not being bright enough to truly feature the dance skills. I don't agree, but this may have been due to my raised perspective in the balcony section. I enjoyed what seemed like slightly muted lighting as it added to the vibe in my mind, as well as the dancers moving in and out spotlights from time to time. It added an artistic ambiance that I'm not sure was intended. Maybe Harris will bring the lights up a notch in the future to ensure everyone can see. I could hear most of the audio, but I've always had good hearing, and could understand how some missed the spoken parts due to the volume of the live band. Perhaps Harris' written words could grace the program notes or join Jorge Cousineau's visual designs in the future.
The entire production returned to the stage for an intimate post-performance discussion. There was so much love and acknowledgement for Durham's own Baba Chuck Davis other visionaries who shaped Harris' career. Audience questions came from those of all ages, including these two from some very young, aspiring dancers: "How do you do all those summersaults," and "When you spin, how do you not get dizzy?" I believe it was Shafeek Westbrook who, much to the delight of the kids, actually demonstrated right there on the stage how to work up from a simple backbend to eventually doing a flip. Josh Culbreath rounded out the warm conversation, reiterating the necessity of taking care of both your mind, body, and fellow dancers. As George Clinton would say, "free your mind, and your body will follow."
Was I born in the wrong place and time? Maybe, maybe not. It doesn't matter because I got to witness Harris and his friends serve the most entertaining history lesson in music and dance that's sure to keep funk alive and inspire a whole new generation. I love funk, and with an understated ease, Harris helped me figure out the simple mechanics of why. You know it's about that groove, that pocket. Witnessing Harris blend my passions of music and dance in a celebration of his own history and with a universal look at its power to break racial, economic, and even religious boundaries, lit a fire under me to get back to nurturing my own creative side. Hey Funkedified, let's do this house party again sometime with an audience Soul Train line down the aisles.
This program repeats July 11 in the same venue. For details, see the sidebar.