Once Mekka begins, you notice another crucial departure from Harris's earlier work: nearly half of the dancers are female. In one early section, the focus shifts entirely to the five women. In a manner reminiscent of a ceremonial water dance, wavy arms and fluid t'ai-chi accentuations give way to staccato head snaps and swivel turns. Later, in a heart-stopping evolutionary solo, a dancer emerges from the ground, as from a chrysalis. Accompanied by amplified breaths and creaks, she learns to crawl one leg through the other and eventually to stand. Finally she assumes the pose, arms crossed with attitude in a low crouch: a break-dancer is born.
In an extended coda dubbed Lorenzo's Oil Harris's given name is Lorenzo Harris brilliantly melds a decelerated version of hip-hop popping with Japanese butoh, an often painfully slow, expressionistic form of modern dance forged in the wake of World War II.
In his director's note to Rome & Jewels, Harris writes, "I am tired of understanding everything I watch. I want to be challenged. . . . My last words to you are, don't worry about whether you like it or not. Just have the experience, absorb it, and move on. . . . And when in doubt, try to imagine what silence looks like."
The University Musical Society presents Facing Mekka Friday and Saturday, February 11 and 12, at the Power Center.