Sometimes, “goodbye” is also “hello.”
Billed by Cal Performances as “The Farewell Tour of the Trey McIntyre Project,” the contemporary dance company’s Berkeley performances on March 21-22 at Zellerbach Hall are as much about starting anew as they are about ending.
From the beginning of its now-ten-year history, founder and artistic director Trey McIntyre had every intention of not grasping perpetuity — an arts organization model he calls “false” and capable of “squashing” a company. Instead, TMP was designed very much like its creator: fluid, rebellious, ambitious enough to tower or topple, and simultaneously ephemeral and mercurial. n 2014, the company announced it would enter a new phase; largely dissolving the current structure and allowing McIntyre (and a small handful of his dancers) the freedom to pursue future passions.
“I didn’t expect the company to last this long or be this successful,” McIntrye says in a phone interview. “We invested fully and are proud as we put this chapter on the shelf. We made this decision from a place of great power, not because something is failing.”
From it’s summer project-based origins in 2005, TMP grew to support a robust tour schedule while planting deep roots in the company’s unlikely home, Boise, Idaho. McIntyre’s feverish, gigantic appetite for creation during the last decade resulted in 22 ballets, a posse of formidably talented dancers and a vivacious outreach program extending beyond schools to hospitals, urban environments, television and film. The company went full-time in 2008 and was named Boise’s “cultural ambassador” in 2010. Between TMP’s national and international appearances, McIntyre continued to build his choreographic empire, setting ballets on the Bay Area’s Smuin Ballet and other American dance companies. A full-length documentary about the company and Ma Maison, a film about New Orleans and TMP’s collaboration with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, rounded out the accomplishments.
But running a full-time company, as McIntyre knew from his former dancing days and long association with Houston Ballet as resident choreographer, is no lark in the park. “A dance company requires a leader who is fully engaged,” he says. “We tried to have certain parts be self-sufficient, but I felt I was fitting my other interests into the cracks.”
His “other interests” are exploratory: film, photography, art installations, multimedia collaborations and more. Even the move to Boise, he said, was a social scientific experiment: an investigation of a “fearful place” he inhabits willingly. “It was a small enough setting to test and study the result of making dance a part of people’s lives,” he says. The resounding embrace the company received from the community confirmed his belief that thinking in “drastically new ways” and “not holding onto dance company form” is the path to pertinence. “Success is not something I seek. Recognition makes me unnerved, but I appreciate the opportunities it provides. in Boise, it was our responsibility to make our voice relevant.”
From his position (at well-over six feet tall and riding on career success, it’s lofty), McIntyre surveys the dance landscape from a rare angle. The world looks different when viewed from a giant’s perspective. A sea of humanity (or dancers) organizes itself into clusters, like bubble-topped pins that can be arranged to arouse the eye or indicate radical direction. Extend the metaphor and a towering skyscraper becomes a footrest or place to hang one’s hat. Clouds form a skirt around the waist, rather like a ballerina’s tutu. And the heightened viewpoint affords imaginings beyond the present-moment horizon. “We’re in a rapidly changing world: people want to interact with their art,” he says. Although live dance can, when lucky, reach 2,000 people in one night’s performance, he emphasizes a 21st century “reality”: film and video on the internet can touch 30-, 50-, 100,000 lives—or more, in mere seconds.
McIntyre plans to fulfill new visions. Describing his intentions, a certain kind of child comes to mind. There’s the child who receives a spacecraft Lego set and builds a spacecraft exactly according to the directions. McIntyre builds the spacecraft once, to prove he’s able—he’s a skilled constructionist, after all—then dashes the thing against a wall. Picking up the exploded device, he fashions it into an astronaut, finds a shoe for transport, assigns it a mission to make pickles in outer space and rockets off to the moon, trailing lunar vinegar-believers in his wake. “I’ll be influenced by things not referential to the work I’m doing,” he says, enigmatically.
In Berkeley, the company will perform two West Coast premieres, The Vinegar Works: Four Dances of Moral Instruction (2014) and Mercury Half-Life (2013). The Vinegar Works, a Cal Performances co-commission, provides physicalized homage to its inspiration: illustrator and writer Edward Gorey. The prolific storyteller’s pen-and-ink drawings and writings skewed adorable, often-gothic worlds and surreal characters into darkly absurd, twisted depictions of Victorian and Edwardian life. “I wanted to float in and out of ideas the way he did. I’d create a frame, then work from general (ideas) to specific (gestures), including movement from actual drawing. I’d go into the dance studio with charcoal under my fingernails,” he said.
Puppets made by designer Michael Curry helped McIntyre cohabit a 2D-3D world. A giant eagle with a 10-foot wingspan is made of foam and requires a three-person team to propel it. “Turn it one way, it’s flat. Turn it another, a completely articulated head is full-bodied,” he marvels. The ballet is set to Shostakovich’s piano quintet in G minor.
Mercury Half-Life flings itself onto the stage with signature, go-to-the-fearful-place style and extends a cycle of major pop acts that fascinate McIntyre and display his operatic propensity. The 50-minute dance transposes the music of Queen into raw muscularity; exploring the life of the British band’s late lead singer Freddie Mercury with cartwheeling, frenetic energy. “There’s an amazing tap solo in the opening. I have an OCD tick where I tap with my fingers, my teeth, everything. I’ve been getting ready to choreograph the mother of all tap routines for years,” he says, laughing.
Aiming to cause audiences to “jump out of their seats and dance,” feeling deliciously scared, looking outside of dance—to nature, to the moon—McIntyre says “goodbye” to TMP Opus 1, and “howdy,” to TMP Who Knows What’s Next?
For information and tickets visit Cal Performances online.