Trey McIntyre is an intense dude, known for his first-class pedigree, notoriously fiery performances, and eyebrow-raising decision to leave the big cities behind and forge a successful company and career in his current home of Boise, Idaho. In Boise, his company has achieved a kind of celebrity status—Trey McIntyre Project dancers are recognized on the sidewalk, and the company receives money from local government and businesses. This enviable, mutual passion between an artist and his community reflects (and maybe inspires) an earthy quality in TMP's work—ballet roots easily meld with modern, and sometimes wild, movements. This weekend, Seattle gets in on a little of the action.
Everything in McIntyre's work, from his choreography to his methods of delivery (including short surprise performances in public places) are deeply connected to his cultural and environmental context. One of the pieces TMP will perform this week, Arrantza (the Basque word for "fishing"), is partially inspired by Boise's large Basque American population. Arrantza combines McIntyre's take on Basque culture, stories, and dance, though he doesn't claim to represent or dissect what it means to be Basque. He described Arrantza in a 2010 interview as a way to "look at a culture from the outside and find perspective from your own life with which to see and interpret."
Arrantza translates Basque dance and stories into spirited choreography that at times seems like physical representations of the chatter one might hear at a big social gathering. In other parts of the piece, softer and calmer conversations between the dancers do a fine job of showing off their strong ballet backgrounds. There's a lot of ballet influence in contemporary dance, though the marriage isn't always smooth—the carefully honed and deeply ingrained movements of classical training are hard to break—but TMP have this down, with a naturalistic ability to combine grace and control with the visceral and wild.
Queen of the Goths, the second selection of the evening, is loosely based on Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus. Set to music by Nancy Sinatra and Supergrass, the dancing is as dramatically sad and angry as one would expect from the tragic play about betrayal, rape, serial murder, and mutilation in ancient Rome. The sudden change in mood between the two sections is bizarrely disjointed—TMP's website describes Queen as a "humorous" take on the play, but I felt more like crying out for mommy than giggling.
In Pass, Away, the third and final piece, McIntyre discusses mortality as more than that period of time during which our flesh is connected to our bones. As he put it in a 2013 interview: "It's the finite nature of that time you have on earth that motivates you to act." Death is a daring theme to approach in dance—it's easy to dilute mediocre choreography in a wash of sap—but McIntyre brings a philosophical approach to it. Pass, Away is largely made up of duets. Typically, dancers tell stories through duets. Whether it's about loss or love or joyful booty-shaking, they dance to and about each other. In Pass, Away, McIntyre takes a kind of Jungian dream-interpretation approach, using the dancers to explore the "unification of all different facets of oneself that may be in conflict." This makes for interesting power balances between the partners, who toss each other's body weight back and forth and test the limits of their own awesomeness by holding balanced poses just long to show off some killer calf muscles. Watching pieces of Pass, Away is like watching someone make a decision, but with beautiful, sweeping arm movements instead of a stupid pros and cons list. I should try that sometime.
In addition to this week's Thursday through Saturday performances, TMP and UW dance students will present a series of little surprise gifts in the form of SpUrbans, five-minute surprise performances at unspecified locations around the Seattle campus. It's another brilliant move from McIntyre to bring dance off the stage and directly to the public, as opposed to the historically glamorous, out-of-reach attitude that has kept dance under a veil of mystery for so long. That elitist culture did damage to the form, but TMP brings the accessibility back with a level of beauty and commitment that any world-class company should envy.