Dramatic visual design, killer moves, and enigmatic storytelling are always on the menu when choreographer-designer Ronald West convenes his Black Irish troupe. But, ironically, his latest work, Lit, which premiered last weekend, seemed a darker study than the capricious flights of fancy from last season's Shade, which opened the evening at Cary Arts Center.
In the compelling opening of Lit, featured guest artist Willie Hinton knelt at center stage, unsmiling, nude from the waist up and holding a black balloon by a string as a circle of oblivious revelers around him counted down to midnight on New Year's Eve. From there, West took us through a suite of somber sequences as the initial kaleidoscopic notes in designer Ryann Norris's lights gave way to an Art Deco-influenced arrangement in black, white, and gray.
To the grim musical musings of J. Cole, West and his performers segued between solitary, sinuous, and confrontational stances as company members ripped the sleeves off Emma Briskman's garment, as if stripping her character's skin away. Discord and menace increased, set to the dark blues of The Barr Brothers' "Half Crazy," as performers romped about in banks of eerie black confetti that carpeted the floor, joyously flinging the dark matter at one another in what seemed a contaminated snow fight.
Amanda Porterfield embodied many of West's more pugilistic gestures, and Natalie Morton's characteristically crisp physical negotiations animated the stage. Steven James Rodriguez Velez's energy constantly simmered and then burst through at key moments. Though the title promised a combination of intoxication and illumination, Lit frequently proved a party where misgivings and manipulation were the main themes. But then again, haven't the last couple of New Year's Eves held more of both than we would like?