|Trey McIntrye Project
Photo by Lois Greenfield
Trey McIntyre Project presented a lively program of three works at the University of Washington’s Meany Hall, April 12–15. McIntyre’s choreography blends ballet and modern vocabulary, and in the works the dancers in his company dazzled with their skill and artistry. The resources that McIntyre has in his dancers and his choreographic ability made for an excellent evening, but paradoxically left one wondering if there could be even more.
The program opened with Queen of the Goths, a short piece described as “a character study of Tamora, the Queen of the Goths in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus.” Elizabeth Keller, as Tamora, started in a spotlight, her mere stance exuding power and something more sinister. She launched into a gripping solo that combined regal, balletic lines and off-balance, devouring movement. Throughout she was commanding and confrontational, and completely convincing as someone with the drive to achieve power and revenge. Ryan Redmond and Derek Ege, as her sons, were lightweights in comparison, blithely frolicking. When Keller drove the two of them like a chariot, they found it a fun game, even as she turned a chilling look to the audience—plotting the next enemy’s demise, perhaps? Her strength made the last image all the more striking, she consumed a red cloth representing her sons’ entrails, her downfall brought upon by her fierceness.
Next was Pass, Away, a work that is supposedly still in preview, though the six dancers’ polish and assurance gave no hint of that. A series of mostly duets set to songs by Richard Strauss, Pass, Away featured some beautifully responsive partnering. The second duet stood out for its delicacy and smooth, skating quality. The lightest brush of a hand against a cheek could send the other person spinning off in response. In contrast, the final duet purposefully showed the strain and effort of moving, and of interacting with another person. The lone solo, danced by Bret Perry, was almost a duet as he contorted and writhed like there was something on him that he was trying to get away from. He would calm, only to arch out of the space he had just inhabited, full of urgency. Amidst the nuanced partnering, it was jarring that in the duet between two men (the rest were male-female), there was barely any partnering or contact. It seemed an opportunity missed in terms of both emotional and physical possibilities. Also jarring were the women’s costumes. While the three men wore t-shirts and shorts, the three women had skimpy bikinis—two got a little cover-up skirt, at least—and one poor woman had fringe on her top that was uncomfortably reminiscent of tassels.
The evening closed with Arrantza, nominally inspired by Basque culture. It opened on an eerie clump of people completely shrouded in rags. This unsettling group tumbled over each other, oozing closer to the audience, until one of them sprang up brandishing a Basque flag. Powerful images of the struggle of the Basque people and their historic oppression immediately came to mind. But then they threw off their rags to reveal cheerful faces and vaguely folk-dancey costumes; the movement immediately transitioned into a delightful medley of virtuosity and exuberance. An entertaining succession of lively dances followed, done both to Basque music and to interviews with Basque people, that discussed, among other things, the centrality of dance to the Basque. This importance of dance to the culture was the strongest thematic tie between the choreography and the subject matter. Despite a few steps that seemed to reference generic folk dance, most of the vocabulary was very balletic. But the enthusiasm and drive that imbued all the steps successfully connected ballet to Basque. The dancers were impressive in how they made the trickiest footwork seem easy, and they all looked to be having the time of their lives. The cheerfulness and energy of the piece made it the perfect closer. And while it might not have made such an apt ending had there been a return to the darkness of the opening, it would have added an interesting ambiguity and depth to the work.
On his website, McIntyre says, “I am drawn to the inherent beauty of ballet vocabulary to express myself. At the same time, I am committed to discovering new ways to explore and open up this vocabulary, so that it expresses who we are as people today, in this world.” This goal seems to be a work in progress. Even when the dancers are not doing classical ballet steps, McIntyre’s work continually demonstrates a balletic awareness of line and architecture in space, but the dancers move with a more down-to-earth humanness than they would in a classical ballet. Occasionally, ballet steps seem to come as an interruption to his choreography, rather than a necessary expression, when at other times they make perfect sense in the flow of movement. Yet he retains ballet conventions that seem not to relate to “who we are as people today”—women depend on men to be lifted and be otherwise physically manipulated; intimate duets are male-female only and camaraderie is the limit of same sex groupings. His choreography and dancers exhibit so many strengths though, that this is probably just the beginning of a long and maturing career.