writers on dancing


Women in Skirts

Trey McIntyre Project
Doris Duke Studio Theater
Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival
Becket, MA
Saturday August 13, 2005 (matinee)

By Susan Reiter

copyright ©2005 by Susan Reiter

Trey McIntyre seems to really appreciate women in skirts. No body stockings, or the hint of anything unisex, for him. In each of the three recent works on the debut program of his Trey McIntyre Project, the women wore shapely, carefully designed costumes that were highly feminine. Some of the costuming was distracting, even problematic, but it always made a bold statement, and reflected a determined, individual artistic mind at work.

This venture was essentially a summer pick-up group, consisting of ten dancers from various established companies whom the busy freelance choreographer had worked with on earlier projects, that rehearsed and performed during July and August. The week of performances at Jacob's Pillow was its finale, following appearances in Colorado and Idaho. All indications are that McIntyre is serious about making it an ongoing enterprise, even if for the moment it must be fit into his busy, peripatetic freelance work. An elegant, substantial color brochure outlining his background and goals; a rehearsal period at the Howard Gilman Foundation's White Oak Plantation; support from the Jerome Robbins Foundation— this troupe is clearly no momentary, fly-by-night venture.

Few of McIntyre's many ballets have been seen in New York (in an ideal world, someone would have brought his highly praised full-length "Peter Pan" to the city by now), but in the past year ABT premiered his "Pretty Good Year," a busy but fresh and invigorating work, and Aspen Santa Fe Ballet brought his smart and engaging "Like a Samba" (originally created in 1997 for Oregon Ballet Theatre) to the Joyce. Clearly, McIntyre find inspiration to music rich in melody and juicy textures; one cannot quite imagine him turning to Ligeti.

He seems particularly drawn to Antonin Dvorák's chamber music, with its blend of propulsive, folk-flavored energy and aching melancholy. His ABT work was to the composer's Piano Trio in B-flat major, and the major work on this program, boldly and perhaps riskily titled "The Reassuring Effects (of Form and Poetry)," uses the complete Serenade in E, Opus 22. It was created in 2003 for the Washington Ballet, and has already been performed by Milwaukee Ballet and Miami City Ballet. It is clearly related to "Pretty Good Year," or rather that work elaborates and further investigates the territory McIntyre staked out in this earlier work. The choreography dives headlong into the music—its rhythms, curlicues, passions, reflective passages. There is an overall juiciness and fullness to the choreography, which is honorably classical yet full of surprising, gently quirky moments. As with the ABT work, a chamber-size ensemble (eight dancers here; seven in that case) carry the whole ballet, with the opportunities divided up quite democratically and no one relegated to an ensemble role.

There is nothing dispassionate or timid going on here; McIntyre forges ahead boldly, and Liz Prince's costumes are similarly assertive. Assembled from shades of plum, magenta, rose, midnight blue and violet, they feature stretchy tops with angles pieces of material and pouffy little layered flounces as the hips for the women. The men's are less busy, closer to standard modern- romantic look, but also each are different, with various color combinations. I must say that they were so fascinatingly busy that during the initial moments of the ballet, until my eye adjusted to them, I noticed the costuming, and how it identified each dancer, more than the choreography itself.

McIntyre deployed his four men and four women in shifting, often unexpected arrangements, although by the end—when everyone did pair up for the robust, invigorating finale, there were clear partnerships. Entrances and exits were made with brisk frequency, and the choreography was so densely packed at times as though he might be unable to hold back, tossing in every idea the music suggested. But how pleasant to encounter choreography that bursts with ideas rather than drags out a limited supply of them into dullness, even if a touch less eagerness, a willingness to hold back, might strengthen the dance.

Along the way, this 30-minute work, which constituted the second half of the program, showcased a fleet, breezy pair of shorter dancers, Jennifer Miller and the ebullient Mark Petrocci, and a more maturely engaged pair, the fluid Michelle Jimenez and the tall, elegant and dynamic John Michael Schert, who embodied a sensual, trusting connection so deep that at the end of their extended duet, she leaned backing his arms all the way down to the floor. "Reassuring Effects" is a notably warm, luscious work, perhaps generous to a fault.

McIntyre turned to a highly different kind of score, five songs by the rock musician Beck, for "High Lonesome," which opened the program. Created in 2001 for Ballet Memphis, it bears the  line "this is about my family" beneath its title, and while it is not populated by identified characters, one can certainly read the relationships. Orbiting around a feisty, curious, ready-for-anything youth (Jonathan Jordan) are a quartet of slightly odd, unpredictable (presumably) family members, each costumed very specifically in gleaming white.

The non-nonsense, uptight mother (Dawn Fay) has her hair tightly pulled back and wears a prim white cocktail dress, evoking the late '50s or very early '60s, and white gloves. "Dad" (Garrett Ammon) is more casual, a lean, lanky figure in T-shirt and chinos. The focal figure's bespectacled sister (Anne Mueller), if that's what she's meant to be, reeks of neurosis and wears tight white pants and a chic sporty jacket, while the presumed brother (Jonathan Dummar) wears overalls. They are a tightly choreographed quartet, entering with exciting vigor upstage through a curtain of white streamers, through which they later vanish and reappear. We get to know them before Jordan makes his entrance, so we are already privy to the world that surrounds him. They seem to function to rein in his open-hearted, trusting ways. His introductory solo, to a song entitled "Jack-Ass," is a smooth skein of movement, whether he is executing pirouettes or rolling along the floor. He pauses to sit cross-legged a few times. The quartet returns, boxing him inside a tight square. And dance punchy unison phrases, as though limiting his horizons, closing off his possibilities.

Much of the solo and duet material for the others features tense, combative movement. The mother brims with resentment and pent-up emotions. The sister seems angry, perhaps confused unsure of her place. McIntyre creates vivid portraits without burdening them with too much characterization, and skillfully arranges evocative situations through his use of spacing, lighting and suggestion. When Jordan partners Fay, there seems to be an unspoken understanding, as though he knows some sad secret she's keeping and wishes he could come to her aid. Both dancers give resonant performances; Jordan's springy jump and liquid phrasing were exceptional. We last seem sitting cross-legged as the lights slowly fade; having either escaped his family for real, or perhaps found his own inner escape.

The program's newest work was a duet, an excerpt from a projected longer work titled "Go Out." Set to three drily performed country music selections by Ralph Stanley and John Hartford, it was intriguing and somewhat mystifying. Roper, as a sort of demonic femme fatale in a wildly excessive, layered crimson ballgown (long and full in back, cut short in front to keep her legs free) stalked and staked out her turf to a mournful tune before Schert, the picture of unassuming innocence, rolled onstage and she caught him by his hair. Her chilly hauteur contrasted sharply with his relaxed gawkiness, and it seemed she was sizing him up for some dire fate. Her severe expression and tightly pulled-back hair suggested a kinship with the powerful, all-knowing goddesses of Martha Graham's work, and when one of the songs was a plea to death to hold off and spare the singer for a while, the duo's strange relationship seemed to be that between huntress and victim, as though the crimson fabric represented a river of blood. Perhaps more will be revealed when the duet is seen in its full context.

There was much to appreciate during this program. First of all, McIntyre is not embarrassed or afraid to put his women on pointe. For him, clearly, toe shoes are integral to a ballet—something that is not always a given these days. Secondly, he is finding his own individual voice in a refreshingly amiable and engaging way. Even when he strains for an effect, you don't ever feel he is trying desperately to create a work that is cool or trendy. He knows how to shape each section of a dance, to bring it to a satisfying, relevant close rather than letting it trail off shapelessly.  His belief in the power and possibilities of music, and his desire to enrich his dancers' opportunities are evident. These works were consistently interesting and maintained a sharp focus. One awaits the development of a more powerfully singular point of view in McIntyre's work, there is already a great deal for which to be grateful.

Volume 3, No. 33
September 12, 2005

copyright ©2005 Susan Reiter



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last updated on August 29, 2005