Founder and Artistic Director of Rennie Harris Puremovement, Harris was one of five honorary degree recipients this year. Honorands included: Dr. James McCarthy, Harvard professor of biological oceanography; Jane Pauley, veteran journalist and television anchor; Elizabeth Strout ’77, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist; and Dr. Teresa Woodruff, an obstetrics and gynecology researcher at Northwestern University.
Credited for being one of the first to bring hip hop dance to concert stages around the world, Bates College trustee Geri FitzGerald introduced Harris by stating “he has transformed not just the art of dance, but our very notion of what art is and where it comes from.”
Similar to the way he approaches his choreography, Harris delivered a commencement speech filled with his own life experiences. In his speech, Rennie urged the graduates to “remember the three laws of hip hop — individuality, creativity and innovation.” Words he lives by everyday.
Harris was also awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in April 2010 as reported in a recent Dance Journal article.
President Hansen, I am honored to present Lorenzo “Rennie” Harris.
There are phenomena that are unimaginable until they happen—so radically do they ask us to reconceive our ideas of what is possible. Rennie Harris is an artist whose work has done this, demonstrating that the realms of the physical and the metaphysical exist in deep conversation. It has been Harris’s great achievement to allow us to see that the world is knitted in the most unexpected and profound ways.
In learning to dance on the streets of North Philadelphia, Harris was present as hip-hop was first developing, and he toured with the pioneering MCs and rappers. But Harris had an idea that hip-hop could speak more deeply. He left the commercial world to experiment with hip-hop as a language, and in the process invented a new genre of art.
Founding the dance company Puremovement, Harris embarked on a journey to excavate the global connections inherent in this American vernacular form. This quest resulted in a body of work embracing the idea that what we share is greater than what separates us. Rome and Jewels, a hip-hop opera adapted from Shakespeare and developed at the Bates Dance Festival, is an example of Harris’s impulse to place hip-hop on a universal stage.
In establishing the ability of hip-hop to convey complex ideas with seriousness and eloquence, Mr. Harris has proven his conviction that hip-hop can transcend boundaries of race, religion, gender, and economic status. He has transformed not just the art of dance, but our very notion of what art is and where it comes from. I am honored to present Lorenzo “Rennie” Harris for the degree Doctor of Fine Arts.
Rennie Harris, your ideas and ideals have transformed the realm of dance. Your dedication to one culture has transformed the wider world. Your vision for your art has forever changed the way we all see. Therefore, by the authority vested in me by the Board of Trustees, I hereby confer upon you the degree of Doctor of Fine Arts, with all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities which here and everywhere pertain to this degree.