One of the preeminent contemporary choreographers, Lorenzo “Rennie” Harris, brings his heralded LIFTED to Pittsburgh this month following a week-long residency at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center (AWAACC) and invites the community to make history by performing alongside the company on the AWAACC stage. Harris’ residency will culminate in Pittsburgh’s debut of Rennie Harris LIFTED! A GOSPEL HOUSE MUSICAL on Sunday, October 16 at 7pm EST.
AWAACC is dedicated to offering community opportunities that directly engage with arts and culture innovators whose work focuses on the African American experience and the arts of the African diaspora. The performance welcomes two pairs of Pittsburgh based vocalists and dancers to join the dance company and ensemble, bringing local artists into the fore. Examining themes of morality and spirituality, LIFTED takes audiences through a poignant story of hardship to redemption rooted in community support and blends the gospel music Harris listened to as a child at his neighbors’ Baptist services, with the house music that fuels his unique style of dance.
LIFTED centers on lead character Joshua, played by Philadelphia-born dancer Joshua Culbreath, who, after experiencing tragedy, embarks on a precarious journey marked by life-defining choices. Soulful vocals from the Alonzo Chadwick & Friends gospel choir and poetic narration from Wadud Ahmad support performances from the lead players: Rev CJ, played by Carl Robinson Jr.; Unc XO, played by Phillip Cuttino Jr.; Aunt Tah Tah, played by Elyse Browning; Big Poppa, played by Rodney Mason; and The Hood Lockers: Marcus Tucker, Andrew Ramsey, Richard Evans Jr., Josh Polk. Puremovement Apprentice dancers-Angel Anderson, Miyeko Harris, and Jeremy Taylor-and Associate dancers- Michael Manson and Elyse Browning-feature in the performance as well.
“Through the performing and visual arts programming at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center, we provide a platform for Black artists to tell their stories, much like August Wilson did through his writings. Rennie Harris, Alonzo Harris, and Wadud Ahmed have created a work that builds on this tradition by telling a poignant story through music and movement, and I’m so excited that through this production, we are also able to offer space and opportunities for these cultural innovators to collaborate not only amongst themselves but also with Pittsburgh community artists,” said AWAACC President and CEO Janis Burley Wilson.
Community involvement is at the forefront of this production of LIFTED. Joining the company will be local two vocalists, Blaire Crumbley and Annie Cunningham, who will rehearse and perform classic house and gospel songs developed and remixed by musical director Darrin Ross, alongside the two local dancers, Aubrey Luttrell and Ryan McMullen, who will learn the house dance choreography, which combines advanced footwork, improvisation, fluid torso movements, and floor work. Additionally, Rennie Harris will host a masterclass for Point Park University and Slippery Rock University students at AWAACC.
“With this production of LIFTED, I am looking forward to collaborating with some really tremendous Pittsburgh performers,” said Puremovement’s artistic director and choreographer Rennie Harris. “Joshua’s story is a universal one of strife, resilience, and ultimately the salvation we find through faith and within our own backyards.”
In addition to LIFTED: A Gospel House Musical, the Fall season at AWAACC includes visual arts exhibition OPTICVOICES: Mama’s Boys, developed by B.U.I.L.D artist-in-residence and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker and artist Emmai Alaquiva. Opening Saturday, October 22 in the Claude Worthington Benedum Gallery, the interactive, multimedia exhibit orbits the healing of mothers who have lost their sons to systemic violence, aiming to highlight their legacy. On Saturday, November 5, AWAACC will present Frederick Douglass Now, a one-man show conceived, written, and performed by Obie Award-winning playwright, actor, educator, and AWAACC Guest Theater Curator Roger Guenveur Smith in which he examines the life of one of history’s most significant figures. AWAACC previously presented the production with Guenveur Smith at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard, where Frederick Douglass spoke 145 years ago.
LIFTED was made possible by the New England Foundation for the Arts’ National Dance Project, with lead funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the Nathan M. Clark Foundation.