Internationally acclaimed choreographer Trey McIntyre stupefied and saddened the dance world in January when he announced he is dissolving his highly successful contemporary ballet company at the end of June.
Known since its inception in 2005 as Trey McIntyre Project, the Boise, Idaho-based troupe will make its last appearance in the Midwest on Thursday evening at the Kauffman Center.
After that, the company heads east for farewell performances at Virginia’s Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, the USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Miss., and Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Massachusetts.
McIntyre’s hip, emotion-driven choreography manages to excite mainstream audiences and garner ecstatic reviews from even the most discerning ballet critics.
As a freelance choreographer, McIntyre, a native of Wichita, created dozens of works for prominent ballet companies including American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet, Moscow Ballet Theatre and Miami City Ballet.
But it’s the popular works he created for his own small touring troupe that sold diverse audiences on McIntyre’s humanistic, up-to-the-minute take on ballet.
The first time I saw TMP perform in New York I was struck by the speed and intricacy of the dancing, and how McIntyre’s spirited choreography reflects the feelings and aesthetics of our country’s pop and folk music, yet in a contemporary fashion and with no hint of quaint Americana qualities. His savvy, bright-eyed little troupe will be deeply missed.
But the news isn’t as bad as it seems. When free of the responsibility of sustaining a full-time dance troupe, McIntyre intends to expand his creative activity beyond the concert-dance stage.
While he will continue to set his ballets on other dance companies, he is also planning new forays into documentary filmmaking and site-specific choreography, which would expose McIntyre’s work to even more people.
“I’m so passionate about these new projects,” McIntyre said. “I’m still going to be working on dance productions, but they will involve a pick-up company.
“Right now I’m in discussions with Segerstrom Center (for the Arts in Costa Mesa, Calif.) about an interactive, site-specific work that might incorporate live performance in two different locations, maybe in two different countries, through a video hookup.”
McIntyre also is looking forward to completing a film that re-creates his company’s collaborations with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and he is making another that documents the 10-year history of TMP. Both films likely will premiere in 2015.
“I think my intent all along was to be doing all of these different kinds of things,” McIntyre said. “But a dance company requires an artistic director who is fully engaged and present 24/7, so everything else I wanted to do was just getting crammed into nonexistent cracks of time. Now I’ll have the air and space to give these other ideas their due.”
TMP’s performance in Kansas City will feature two recently created pieces: “The Vinegar Works: Four Dances of Moral Instruction,” which premiered in Berkeley, Calif., in March; and “Mercury Half-Life,” a 2013 work danced to music by Queen.
McIntyre got the idea for “The Vinegar Works” when dance critic Robert Greskovic mentioned he had a contact with the estate of famed illustrator Edward Gorey and could put McIntyre in touch with them if he was interested in Gorey’s work as source material for a ballet.
“To be honest it was not something I’d ever considered before, but it was a tantalizing offer, so I followed up,” he said. “Gorey is able to walk this line between adorable and sick and there’s something so charming about how he does that. He holds our hand through our own dark reaches and shadow parts.
“In the Gorey piece, I play one of a trio of very strange, almost incestuous cousins,” said TMP dancer Travis Walker, who joined McIntyre’s company three years ago after performing with Ballet San Jose, Alberta Ballet, and Smuin Ballet of San Francisco.
“We end up going nuts and killing each other off. I die by drinking poisoned vanilla extract. It’s a bizarre story to begin with, but the way Trey adapted it is really spectacular.”
“Mercury Half-Life” reflects McIntyre’s ongoing desire to explore the music of iconic pop artists. Surprisingly, the piece opens with tap dancing.
“I began as a tap dancer,” McIntyre said. “As a kid, the only way I would endure ballet class is if I could go to my tap class afterward. I was a real tap nerd. I developed a whole language of symbols to notate it.
“I can still remember the routines I did when I was 11 years old. There’s been this waterfall of tap vocabulary welling up in me for 30 years.”
In exploring the moving flamboyance of the Queen songs McIntyre realized that their vaudevillian, show-biz elements matched the show-off quality of tap dance.
“So the piece starts with this really intense, hummingbird-fast tap solo,” McIntyre said.
The solo is performed by one of TMP’s original members, Brett Perry. A child tapper who shelved his tap shoes during his college years to study modern dance at the Juilliard School, Perry is thrilled to be revisiting tap as a professional performer.
“The curtain goes up and — boom — there’s somebody tap dancing. It’s supercool,” Perry said.
Come July, although he is planning to audition for a performing position with another company, Perry hopes to continue working with McIntyre, setting his ballets on other troupes.
“I really want to stay involved with Trey’s work,” Perry said. “There’s something so ‘relatable’ about it. Audiences really get it. They walk away feeling some kind of emotion, and not that sense of confusion which sometimes happens in the contemporary dance world.”
Walker said “We all feel like rock stars after each performance. The energy level of the audience is always pumped when they leave.”
“Trey’s work really taps into the human experience,” said TMP charter member Chanel DaSilva, who already has a position lined up with Camille A. Brown’s New York-based contemporary dance company, starting in July.
“Trey is a brilliant choreographer and, while I’m happy that we’re touring this program now, I really believe in the legacy of his work and hope that it continues to be seen in the future.”
The Trey McIntyre Project performs Thursday at the Kauffman Center. Tickets are $20-$65 through hjseries.org.