When Trey McIntyre’s young Boise, Idaho-based dance company Trey McIntyre Project (TMP) made its New York City debut at the Joyce Theater in June, the works they brought to life gave a welcome nod to the fact that New York by no means has an exclusive hold on dance. McIntyre’s Leatherwing Bat, (serious), and Ma Maison carried both soul and substance and could make one wonder why more promising young choreographers don’t look to landlocked locales when setting up shop.
Although McIntyre has been on the national dance radar since 1995, when he was appointed choreographic associate at the Houston Ballet, and he’s created work for companies ranging from American Ballet Theatre to Ballet Memphis to Ballet de Santiago in Chile, it wasn’t until last year that he formed his own company. He based it, after careful consideration, in Boise. After evaluating eight U.S. cities, Boise came out on top because of what McIntyre saw as its openness and support for creative culture. The city wasn’t yet “saturated” with art, yet supported the arts, and had recently created a Department of Arts and History. TMP began as a summer pick-up company in 2004, but this year marks the first in which McIntyre has worked with the same dancers year-round. The results are promising and indicate that his intuitive approach is thus far exactly right.
Leatherwing Bat, which opens the program, is set to songs by Peter, Paul and Mary, the lyrics about everything from being swallowed by a boa constrictor to a day at the zoo to Puff the Magic Dragon. The dancers—in solos, duets and groups—move through space with a bouncy, but weighty energy. Arms and legs hinge angularly and heads jerk quickly. Woven into this world of full-bodied bounce are silky extensions in second, pas de chats and other elements of classical ballet, but all executed with the same energy and attitude to create a fully captivating, uninterrupted narrative.
The near 20-minute piece is character-driven. At times, we recognize mother, father and son; at others, we see a group of kids at the zoo, or animals at play. The specifics are at most tangentially relevant. Part of what makes this piece work is that all six dancers fully embody the character of their parts, whether animal, mineral or idea. In their gestures and attitudes, they emit a childlike vibrancy which seems to relish the immediate, but they are also colored by solemnity, like older versions of themselves longing for what was. The dancer John Michael Schert, who is also the company’s executive director, captivates completely when simply standing in second position, arms outstretched, front stage center, as “Puff the Magic Dragon” slowly and sadly ends and the lights and music fade. You ache for Schert to stand just a little longer.
In (serious), which follows, two men and one woman, dressed in unisex grey slacks and white button-up shirts, seem to question the very meaning of “serious.” To Henry Cowell’s unpredictable score of lamenting strings and broken piano chords, the dancers travel with precision through a flurry of movement, only to stop suddenly in passé relevé, arms in forth. Then they move again, as though persecuted by an inescapable force—internal or external?—which presses them to go on, only to stop again in strong second extensions. Perfect split leaps in second land nonchalantly in reclined repose as the dancers seem to waver between determination and mockery of it. Nothing here is straight: just funny or sad, sombre or bright.
The program ends with Ma Maison, which is inspired by New Orleans and New Orleanians’ treatment of death. To music by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, the masses come out with faces masked behind grinning skulls—either with menace or with glee—and saunter gaily in a vibrant funereal procession. Their bodies ripple disjointedly as they walk walks of exaggerated heel-first jauntiness. But, although these carnivalesque characters come with exaggerated traits, they never give way to caricature.
McIntyre’s choreography is entirely musical, but the dancers don’t merely dance to the music, nor does the music merely accompany the movement. The lighting doesn’t merely illuminate the dancers, just like the dancers don’t merely cast shadows in the light. These dancers seem to know who they are and why they move the way they do, and they bring a captivating presence to the story. Their roles, just like the worlds they evoke, feel complete, and the movement, lighting, sound, and space coalesce to give life to a captivating reality.
McIntyre’s vision is thorough and thoroughly organic. As he said in a short video documentary about his creative process, “I feel the piece exists already and it’s out there somewhere in the back of my head or in the world. I try to get out of the way of it and be a conduit, and not let my own ego or sense of aesthetic or insecurity get in the way.” Let us hope, then, that McIntyre continues to keep his channel open to translate the vitality, life force, or quickening that he perceives into action.
Mary Staub is a freelance writer and dancer from Switzerland who teaches at NYU and bikes in Prospect Park. You can find her at views-on-dance.blogspot.com