Trey McIntyre Project: Power and Grace
Photos courtesy of Jacob’s Pillow
In 2008, after 18 years of making dances for ballet companies across the globe, Trey McIntyre formed his own company, which debuted at Jacob’s Pillow to instant acclaim. His reputation has grown over the years, and the Trey McIntyre Project filled the Ted Shawn Theatre to capacity this week. While many choreographers are working in the idiom of contemporary ballet, none is doing it quite like McIntrye.
In a three-dance program, audiences witnessed dancers who move with balletic grace, but also with uncommon power. All have the requisite lightness of being, but they are also more grounded than ethereal; just check out their thighs, which have a circumference reminiscent of speed-skater Eric Heiden. While the dancers share McIntyre’s movement vocabulary, and fully embody it in their performances, all retain their individuality, in terms of both looks and onstage personality; their uniqueness shines through, with charm and charisma.
There’s something distinctly American about the program, perhaps due to the company’s heartland base of Boise, Idaho (McIntyre hails from Wichita, Kansa) and the musical choices that drive the dances. The evening began with Leatherwing Bat, which McIntyre premiered at the Pillow in his aforementioned company debut, and it would be hard not to like such a humorous piece set to songs of Peter, Paul and Mary, harking back to a time that McIntyre himself is too young to have experienced first-hand. Not so the older members of the audience, some of whom couldn’t stop themselves from singing along. Fortunately the dance is so delightful that it easily overcomes the minor annoyance of inconsiderate viewers. The smart, inventive choreography, performed with precision and gusto, raises it above a mere exercise in nostalgia. It concludes, of course, with Puff The Magic Dragon (enacted by the towering John Michael Schert, a dancer built in McIntyre’s own image) who affectingly backs up into darkness (slips into his cave) as the song comes to an end.
The third piece, the world premiere of Ladies and Gentle Men, is, like Leatherwing Bat, a comic dance inspired by nostalgic music, this time the late-baby-boomer era Free to Be… You and Me. This album, book, and television special, dating back to the 1970s bloom of feminism, right around the birth of Ms. Magazine, features Marlo Thomas and other icons of the age such as Alan Alda, Diana Ross, Mel Brooks, Michael Jackson, and football player Rosey Grier (famously singing It’s All Right to Cry).
McIntyre uses this historical artifact as a springboard for an all-too literal exploration of gender roles, including one mimed segment when a guy gets beat up for being a little too unlike a stereotypical guy. The three male dancers wear suits and the women wear jewel-toned dresses – designed by Andrea Lauer as if pulled from the Mad Men wardrobe – until the end, when all break out of their roles, finally, metaphorically, shedding their societal constraints to reveal multicolored, widly-patterened leotards — representing their true personalities — underneath. Despite the facile “story,” the movement is inventive and engaging, and the dance is well intentioned in its skewering of gender restrictions and yearning for gender equality. Here we are, 40 years after the release of Free to Be… You and Me, and we still face the same issues; Ladies and Gentle Men brings a new appreciation of Free to Be… as the progenitor of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way.
The second dance, a short piece called, for reasons not as literal as the titles of the two comic works that flank it, Bad Winter, is a masterpiece. This two-part work begins with Chanel DaSilva in the spotlight, in white tails over a gray top and boy shorts, doing a modified version of the old soft shoe to an old-timey recording of the depression-era classic tune, Pennies from Heaven. The mood shifts as two sad, beautiful songs by The Cinematic Orchestra – That Home and To Build a Home, set the tone for an achingly gorgeous and moving duet performed by Travis Walker and Lauren Edson (sylph-like, you can see from her fragile-looking body that she is not a member of McIntyre’s troupe) that evokes the feeling of a deep-rooted love affair that is fading. The dancers begin apart, they embrace and turn their backs on each other, cling and push each other away. Combined with the music, this portrait of longing and despair is a stunning, impressive work that leaves an indelible impression, like a sad dream from which you awake with tears in your eyes. —Bess Hochstein
Trey McIntyre Project at Jacob’s Pillow
Ted Shawn Theatre, August 8 - 12