Saturday, November 21, 2009

Dance's latest hot young thing, Trey McIntyre (below left, and indeed hot, no?) blew into the ICA last night (program continues through Sunday) with his new troupe, "The Trey McIntyre Project," and a set of dances that consistently charmed, even if they didn't always quite satisfy. Make no mistake - Mr. McIntyre is a born choreographer, with a graceful classic syntax that's so felicitous, it feels almost offhand. What's more, McIntyre seems to know instinctively how to set his movements in a consistently interesting space, and how to summon striking stage pictures at will. His "hook," however, is the application of this talent to a breezy, but earnest, pop sensibility. He photographs his dancers (above, and at left) in what look like expensive underwear ads, for example, to connect to a smart crowd that's more at home in a club than a concert hall.

Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course (and honestly, it's far less trashy than some of the florid schtick you encounter all the time in ballet). But I have to say that McIntyre couldn't always manage his classic-pop synthesis in a way that would fully satisfy a classicist; the pop often won out in the end, leaving you feeling high, but also still hungry, as if you'd eaten only cookies for dinner.

This is partly because pop is usually so simple that you can't rely on its musical ideas to carry a full dance. Narrative is just about a necessity, and that's what saved "Like a Samba," the playful opening number set to the chic vocal stylings of Astrud Gilberto. McIntyre attired his boys in beach clothes, but his girls in toe shoes - which told us immediately that he intended to slip ballet into a sophisticated, adult-listening mix. And honestly, the opening silhouettes of the piece were wonderful: basically classical moves executed with a Latin shimmy in the hips and waist. The dance then devolved into charming, but lite, ballroom-dancing-style displays, however, sans any actual storylines of seduction or surrender. Until the trio set to "The Girl from Ipanema," that is, which featured two smitten boys (Brett Perry and John Michael Schert) trailing after their dream girl (Ilana Goldman) in a sunny sexual daze. Basically frozen whenever she was around, this goofy pair erupted into sweet little dances of infatuation whenever she was offstage, and suddenly we understood what Mr. McIntyre could really do when he had a scenario he could run with.

Yet for some reason McIntyre didn't seem to know where to go with "Shape," which opened with a hilariously transgressive image - a female dancer equipped with Dolly-Parton-scale bazooms (actually balloons). The stage seemed set for something completely different, I must admit - I was hoping for something simultaneously jaundiced and sympathetic about our wacky standards of feminine beauty (and boobies). But suddenly other folks came on with other balloons attached to other parts of their bodies, and the piece collapsed into a sweet, but essentially platitudinous, take on diversity - although the finale, in which Dolly's balloons suddenly took off for the ceiling, gave the piece one last funny kick. The dancers once again charmed, although Annali Rose (right) was probably the stand-out (as she was in "Samba") of this green, but talented, group.

Not everything in the evening was breezy fun, however. "(serious)," which McIntyre has said was inspired by a dream about Charlie Kaufman (!) proved intriguing, if a little obscure in its essence (although given the obviousness of what had come before, having to think about what we were watching was a bit refreshing). Set to a suite of spiky, dense variations by Henry Cowell, the work follows three dancers - all dressed in office-casual - struggling with something, although we never find out what (indeed, perhaps all three are different facets of some nameless middle manager out there in cubeland). Whatever that "something" is, it eats at them, it bugs them, it sets them at each other - although they never seem to get emotional about it (perhaps because they're too "serious" for that). Dancers Chanel DaSilva, Brett Perry, and particularly the lightning-quick Jason Hartley, brought a coiled energy to the proceedings, which more than usual for McIntyre seemed to be following a loosely formal plan: at the finish, the three dancers coalesced into a kind of tautly balanced pyramid. Perhaps a solution - or at least an equilibrium - had been achieved.

The evening closed with an ambitious venture into more conceptual territory - "Sun Road," which was commissioned by the National Park Service (of all people) to "commemorate" the beauty of Glacier National Park. Part of the piece consists of film of McIntyre's dancers on location in the almost stupefyingly scenic Montana park (left), and the "dance," as it were, moved at will from screen to stage and back again (when the live dancers made their first appearance, they seemed to roll right out from the screen). This formal play was often fascinating, although the dance itself was at times a bit baldly symbolic. Chanel DaSilva was on hand, in a stunning scarlet gown, to seemingly impersonate nature herself, while several bad-boy dancers - clad in tuxedos with matching red cummerbunds - caroused, pillaged, and did pathetic battle across her great demesne.

Soon ravaged earth was actually pouring from their sleeves, and DaSilva was "bleeding" long silk scarves; yet frankly, the dancers seemed puny before the scale of Glacier National Park, and the dance didn't quite convey that it was they, not it, who were probably most threatened by their antics. Still, the piece included yet again some marvelous stage images, of naked bodies (like our carbon footprints?) slowly melting the glacial snows. And McIntyre nailed his thesis in a disturbing coda, in which a lone man encountered another earth-mother (left), only this time clad in a burnt ball gown that suggested a dead, lifeless husk; as he clasped it erotically, even she withdrew, leaving him alone with the fruit of his labors. With more powerful imagery like that, McIntyre could soon boast a repertory as deep as it is sweet.

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