By Susan Broili
February, 8 2015 – Durham, NC
The premiere of Ronald West’s “ORGAN,” performed by West and his company, BLACK IRISH, offered a fast hour of fun from an unlikely inspiration: organs of the human body. On Saturday night, the packed audience at Motorco Music Hall showed their appreciation by clapping, shouting and not sitting still as they responded to this contemporary hip hop troupe’s beat-driven rhythms.
“ORGAN” began with West’s solo, performed without music, as he first used one hand to feel his other arm. He then proceeded to perform hip-hop moves that had a soft, effortless quality even when he executed intricate floor moves, his feet lifted, body spiraling. The entire performance had a tactile quality, like the softness of skin, the largest organ in the body.
West takes the hip-hop form to the level of art through his unique interpretation and expressiveness as well as technical skills. Add to that his imagination, demonstrated by the fact that he came up with the idea of basing this new work on organs.
He also drew on his imagination for devising ways to draw attention to certain organs. He focused on the eye by fitting three dancers with glasses that block vision. These dancers moved slowly on their own. At times, sighted dancers guided them. This prompted thoughts about the importance of our eyes that many sighted people, no doubt, tend to take for granted.
In another section, dancers spent some time repeatedly saying the names of foods including prune and cake. Dancers smacked their lips to suggest eating. They then patted their stomach, another organ.
Dancers raised short, glass goblets full of water as they made toasts to the liver. They drank the water, which begged the question: What does water have to do with the liver? (A little Internet research provided the answer: Water is one ingredient in bile made by the liver and used in the digestive process. This marks the first time that I have ever done research on the liver for a dance review.)
The ear became the center of attention as West whispered into the ear of each company member. And, in my favorite dance interpretation of an organ, West devised an indirect way to suggest the lungs. In it, he and his dancers, wearing long, full black skirts, used their hands to vigorously flap their skirts and also spun, which caused their skirts to twirl and billow. Like the movement of tree limbs, they made air visible. Air made me think of breathing and the lungs that make this essential function possible.
In addition to these organ-inspired sections, there was also plenty of straight-out, get-down hip-hop performed by West and company and also by some of West’s students. The students performed in two, separate sections — adults in one and in the other, six young people from West’s class at The Ballet School of Chapel Hill. The woman seated beside me must have known someone in the adult group because after taking photos with her phone, she said, out loud, ”I’m so proud of her.” These adults did themselves proud in their full-out performance and so did the young people. Even the youngest boy showed he had attitude and moves especially during his turn to solo when he hunched his shoulders up so high his neck disappeared, swaggered and then performed some quick footwork.
After the show, West announced that his company would have another premiere in two months. Bring it on.