The dance was spectacular, the choreography complex and interesting. There was live funk music and original compositions performed on onstage by an impressive band formed for the show, making the performance richly layered.
But it was difficult to enjoy Rennie Harris Puremovement’s Funkedified, which opened Friday night at the Merriam Theater, due to many annoying factors.
The most baffling was the theater itself. Latecomers are generally limited or not accommodated. But throughout Friday night’s performance, ushers maneuvered through the aisles to bring people to their assigned seats. Rows of people had to get up to let others through, blocking the view of the stage. Why weren’t latecomers seated in the back, where there were a number of empty seats?
Meanwhile, a person across the aisle from me texted and played with a phone during at least half the performance, even though an usher was alerted.
On stage, the lighting was too dim. Better lighting would have helped distinguish the dancers from the the band that sometimes dominated. Even when four dancers took turns performing in spotlights, they were constantly going in and out of the shadows.
Occasionally the gloom was effective, turning speedy arm and leg movements into dramatic blurs. But mostly, it was so hard to see details that I couldn’t identify individual dancers to give them credit.
A video plays during portions of the performance. In it, Harris tells the story of growing up against a landscape of political turmoil and a soundscape of funk, and learning to dance long before he had any idea he could be paid for it. It is interesting but difficult to hear, as the sound is overwhelmed by the band and the intentional artiness of the multimedia. At the end of the video, Harris’s face appears in a swirl of color, like a psychedelic Great and Powerful Oz.
All of this was too bad, because the dance is fantastic. Hip-hop does not need clean edges, which means the dancers are free to literally throw their bodies into the movement. There is popping and locking, a Philly-based form of footwork-focused dance called GQ, robotic animation, and plenty of gymnastics, aerial tricks, head spins, and arm stands from both Puremovement and the Hood Lockers, who filled out the dance cast.
Some of the most astonishing motions are the simple ones, such as when one man scurries across the stage without seeming to move his legs or another takes a long slide on the ground on his head.
Such talent deserves to be seen without distraction or interruption.
Rennie Harris Puremovement repeats the program at 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday at the Merriam Theater, 250 S. Broad St. Tickets: $20-$50. Information: 215-893-1999 or kimmelcenter.org