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DANCIN' FEATS Trey McIntyre Project's last dance

by Lauren Warnecke

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"What is that inspiration to dance? What is that feeling, and why is important? Why do we seek it?" said Trey McIntyre in a conversation with Windy City Times. McIntyre and his company, the Trey McIntyre Project ( TMP ), are legendary across the United States, and for good reason. McIntyre is a world-class choreographer with some of the country's best dancers at his disposal. TMP is famed for its effective branding and audience engagement, particularly in its home base of Boise, Idaho.

Boise? Yes, you heard that right. TMP is a jet-setter not only in the work it produces, but also it's ability to transform the people of Boise into vehement contemporary dance fans. The initial introduction took place when McIntyre's friend at the North Carolina School of the Arts positioned Boise as "the promised land." After touring a few times with his pick-up group, McIntrye said, "We had an immediate rapport with that audience. When it came time to become a full-time company, we had the luxury of deciding where it would be. I don't think there was any person involved the organization who's first thought wasn't Boise. People were so excited that a world-class organization chose this community and [they] welcomed us with open arms." In seven years, they have become celebrities in town, achieving almost rock-star status; yet, McIntyre said he has never compromised his authenticity as an artist to gain acceptance or appreciation from Idahoans.

So, what's the LGBT community like in Boise? "It's probably bigger than one might assume about that region, but, I mean, Boise's a small town. We had record numbers at pride this year, and TMP was one of four floats," said McIntyre. Though he doesn't claim to personally have strong connections with Boise's gay community, TMP the organization has been on the front line of pride initiatives in Boise. In addition to pride fest appearances, out dancer Brett Perry has acted as a Pride Foundation Ambassador, talking to audience members and patrons across the country about LGBT equality.

When news first emerged that the company was folding, there was a veritable gasp of dismay among the dance community. Rumors flew wildly, particularly after the stinging loss of Luna Negra Dance Theatre in the Chicago dance community. The success story that turned the citizens of Boise, Idaho, into rabid dance fans—the prime example of audience engagement at its best—is folding?

As it turns out, the decision to disband the company was completely by choice. McIntyre simply wants to take his work in a different direction, and explore technologies and performance formats that aren't conducive to a traditional dance company structure. "If that were the direction I wanted to continue as an artist, [audience engagement] would continue to evolve and grow deeper. The crossroads with the Boise community was one of, 'OK, we've been her for a while,' and it was the seven-year itch in terms of the audience's relationship with us. How do we bridge that, and grow that even deeper? The company will continue; it's just not my dance company."

Beginning in March with farewell performances for Boise, the company then embarked on a final tour, presenting a new work with distinct ties to Chicago. Edward Gorey, the 20th-century novelist and illustrator known for his depictions of Victorian and Edwardian settings, is the inspiration for McIntyre's The Vinegar Works: Four Dances of Moral Instruction ( adapted for live performance from Gorey's tales of the same name ). Though McIntyre worked for many years at Houston Ballet, The Vinegar Works is the first piece in TMP's repertoire to contain a strong storyline.

Gorey was born in Chicago, and the piece is a commission from the Harris Theater for Music and Dance. Employing exquisite costuming, puppetry ( including a massively tall, ghostlike lady resembling Bram Stoker's version of Mother Ginger ) and an eerily dressed stage with billowing scrims across the proscenium, The Vinegar Works is a creepy world bearing semblance to a combination of Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas and Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd. The narrative dance has been set to a Shostakovich piano trio, performed live in a one-night-only performance at the Harris by three young musicians through a collaboration with the Music Institute of Chicago. "…Oh—I'm didn't mean to interrupt, but they're incredible! They're amazing!" said McIntyre. Later this summer, the acclaimed Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival will join the Harris to complete the list of venues showing The Vinegar Works with live accompaniment. ( Other venues on the tour will show the work with recorded playback. )

The program is rounded out by a rock ballet set entirely to the music of Queen. Called "Mercury Half-Life," the piece was selected for this program to bring up the mood and electrify the audience in the second half. "When programming an evening, I like to end with something that is kind of rousing … something that helps people dance out of the theater," said McIntyre. He must have accomplished his goal, as curtain call after curtain call had audiences whooping and hollering recently, in spite of the formal venue.

In making "Mercury Half-Life," McIntyre saw a gap in the company's rep and knew he needed a new crowd-pleaser. "I'm not comfortable having an agenda for how our audience is supposed to feel. ... I try to, as an artist, make the most honest work that I possibly can, and hopefully people respond to it for that reason," he said. This made the beginning stages of development quite difficult. In searching for a rationale other than making the audience feel good, he came to the notion of why people dance. "What is that feeling, and why is important—why do we seek it?" These were the questions he sought to answer, and, for McIntyre, "Queen was an obvious choice. It's big, showy, peacock music. "

TMP continues its farewell tour with stops in U.S. cities large and small before ending in Lee, Mass., at the Jacob's Pillow in late June. At that time, the company will disband and McIntyre intends to pursue freelance opportunities and a growing interest in film production.

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