The Trey McIntyre Project launched its fourth season in Boise with three premieres in its program “Grounded,” a theme the company is working with just now. After three seasons, traveling around the globe from its home base in Boise, the company is recommitting to its hometown, it tell the audience in a series of video interviews, that it is grounding itself in Idaho, both literally and figuratively.
“Grounded” probably is the strongest program the company has put forth to date, although there is tough competition, with three strong character driven ballets. As always McIntyre’s inventive athletic movement style keeps you guessing what comes next.
“In Dreams,” to music by Roy Orbison, is an older work (2007). You can tell by the pointe shoes the women wear, but don’t always use. That was a point when McIntyre was transitioning from a more classical aesthetic to a contemporary fusion of techniques he now embraces. Yet the dancers spend more time on their heels than their toes.
It’s a sweet series of duets and quintets to Orbison’s twangy, spare romantic ballads. The cast of five Ashley Werhun, Annali Rose, Lauren Edson, and new dancers Travis Walker and Ben Behrends fit together nicely. They perform McIntyre’s intricate partnering moves with crisp clarity that adds more depth to the music by echoing chords, accents and phrases that heighten the sense of loneliness and heartbreak. Rose and Walker make a lovely paring, as do Walker and Edson, who steps forward as a featured soloist in the piece. Edson, a Boise dancer who joined the company two years ago, gives an effecting performance of the odd woman out.
“Gravity Heroes,” created in Boise in collaboration with designer Andrea Lauer, held the centerpiece position in the lineup. This will become one of McIntyre’s signature pieces in the future. It is resonant, deeply personal and intriguingly crafted. The ballet blends McIntyre’s tense juxtaposition of tight, technical ballet footwork and explosive contemporary sweep and dynamic with deeply emotional content, beautifully expressed by the dancers.
“Heroes” follows dancer Brett Perry though a series of experiences that transform him. McIntyre comes out at the end of the piece with a video that explains the underlying idea that the ballet is inspired by people who somehow change their lives by defying the gravity (as in the force) of their situation and freeing themselves to follow a different path.
These are “Gravity Heroes” he explained in a post-performance video. (Nice to know, but maybe, too much information in the context of the performance. I enjoyed the insider information, but I’m an extreme dance nerd.)
Lauer, the company’s artist in residence, works on Broadway (“American Idiot”) and with a variety of dance companies. She created intriguing costumes for the piece that helped tell the story, in the same way she did the costumes for “Ten Pin Episodes” in 2008, a McIntyre ballet inspired by a donation of a couple hundred bowling pins.
Lauer’s costumes from slick, shiny plastic-like body suits to spare diaphanous vests that mimic wings (birds create a metaphor in the piece through recordings of birds taking flight) illustrate the transition from stasis to earthquake to new incarnation. They are simple and only suggest costuming, while effectively showing the body.
Perry makes the most of the opportunity to explode in the first section, battering donkey piñatas that descend from above. He runs and bats them with his hands, rips them apart like a 6-year-old’s birthday party gone wrong. The anger and aggression subside and he’s left stripped to his body suit, ready to absorb new influences, which he receives from a layered and intense trio with Jason Hartley and Chanel DaSilva to Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Crimson and Clover.” These three bonded in McIntyre’s “(serious)” in 2008 and are beautifully integrated here. Next, he watches John Michael Schert in one of his most alluring solos that makes use of Schert’s natural finesse and extension.
The last movement uses a striking lighting effect that projects the dancers shadows onto the clean backdrop that creates giant shadow puppets that tower over their human counterparts. New company tenderfoot (apprentice) Yarinet Restrepo, a young dancer with a delicate, lyrical quality, makes her Boise debut in the piece.
The final transition takes Perry off stage into the audience, a bold move for a concert dance performance. He walks past the footlights, off the stage and picks someone from the audience to hug. The transformation is complete. Not just for his character’s narrative but for the performance. From them on stage, to those in the audience, the answer is “US,” the word projected on the curtain during the bows. It takes both sides of the footlights to make a performance.
The closing piece “Oh, Inverted World” is a masterpiece, and in some ways encapsulates what makes McIntyre’s work resonate with so many people who wouldn’t otherwise call themselves dance fans. Originally choreographed for Smuin Ballet in San Francisco, it uses simple athletic costumes by Sandra Woodall — the men wear gym shorts and socks, the women are in a gladiator meets saloon girl outfit. McIntyre’s unusual moves — resting on the back of someone’s knee, hooking an arm through part of a costume — are arresting. Then his music choice — Shins from their album “Oh, Inverted World” — is esoteric enough to be taken seriously but it plays on our popular sensibility. It is accessible without pandering. Then there’s the way McIntyre uses the music to drive the movement and to underscore his narratives, while never giving way if its sincere or ironic.
The dancers nail this piece, especially Walker who was in Smuin Ballet when McIntyre created the piece.
The piece fits nicely on the Project dancers: Werhun, Rose, DaSiva and Edson, Walker, Behrends, Schert and Perry.
MCINTYRE PROJECT’S ‘GROUNDED’: 2 p.m. Oct. 16, Morrison Center, 2201 Cesar Chavez Lane, Boise. $20-$63. Select-a-Seat.