Saturday, March 17, 2012

Choreographic All-American

Dancers Travis Walker, Ashley Werhun, and John Michael Schert.
Trey McIntyre has found - or rather created - an intriguing choreographic niche.  Working with his eponymous Trey McIntyre Project, a small, dedicated, highly skilled group of dancers out in Boise, Idaho (of all places!) he has built a national following for a vision that may be sourced in classical technique, but plays out as a variant of smart, twenty-something chic - with, amusingly enough, a sturdy, all-American edge.  Even though there's a distinctly homo-erotic, Calvin-Klein-esque undertow to much of his imagery (above).  That's right: homo-erotic, all-American dance.  I know.  The funny thing is - it works.

Or at least it works when McIntyre keeps close to his classical roots, and his indisputable talent for quicksilver steps creates a dazzlingly gymnastic hybrid of ballet and pop.  Oddly, though, when he tries to follow Paul Taylor into jazzier, funkier idioms, his invention flags a bit, and his symbolism gets a bit pretentious and obscure.  Even in these pieces, though, you can always just look at the boys.  Not that the girls aren't lovely.  They are!  But those boys.  Whew.

Alas, the gay content only explicitly surfaced once last night at the ICA, where McIntyre is enjoying a return engagement after his debut last year with World Music/Crash Arts, in the opening (and best) of the evening's dances, Blue until June.  But I think it may count as the first time on a major Boston stage we've seen an openly romantic pas de deux for two men (John Michael Schert and Travis Walker), even if this one definitely had the vibe of "We're just experimenting!" (and even if an irate girlfriend shut everything down at the end).  Oh well.  At least it's a start.  And the World Music audience seemed okay with it - even though this crowd feels a bit dated in its progressive politics (several people stared openly at me and my partner during intermission, with that "Whoa, are they gay?" look we all remember so well from the 80's).

Elsewhere, just btw, Blue until June was transporting; a true McIntyre classic (it was, it's worth noting, the oldest dance on the program).  Set to a series of Etta James standards, I suppose it didn't offer any deep new insights into, you know, the blues, and heartache and such, but are there any new insights into such things?  The dance began with one of the Big Symbols McIntyre seems to favor; the dancers crawled out from beneath a dark tarp, somewhat like sleepers roused from dreams.  But what we got after that wasn't so much a sense of emotional epiphany as sheer choreographic brilliance; McIntyre is certainly at the very high end of pop choreographers; he doesn't "enact" the lyrics of the songs he chooses; instead, his graceful duets seem to stream along in complicated counterpoint to their (fairly simple) musical accompaniment.  Indeed, McIntyre carries us along with such inventive confidence that we stop thinking that nothing's really building and instead just drink the dances in (and get drunk on them).  The big problem with pop choreography is almost always that the music isn't complex enough to sustain any real choreographic (and hence, intellectual) development.  I wouldn't say that McIntyre actually solved that problem here, but for long stretches he transcended it.  And the dancers were riveting, with particularly virtuosic turns from Lauren Edson, Benjamin Behrends, and Annali Rose.

Alas, McIntyre wasn't quite so successful in Bad Winter, or The Sweeter End.  The adorable Chanel DaSilva worked hard to sell the first half of Bad Winter (set to the standard "Pennies from Heaven") but just couldn't make much headway; the steps are too ironically superficial.  There was more depth to the second half of the piece (set to pop tunes from the Cinematic Orchestra), which Travis Walker and Lauren Edson performed with admirable intensity; but we were left wondering exactly how the two parts were meant to connect.

The Sweeter End was likewise thin, but more fun - it was basically a long vamp to the darker, devil-may-care, nihilistic side of jazz.  It began with another slightly-puzzling grand gesture (Chanel DaSilva spray-painting an "X" across the backsides of the other dancers) - to which the only possible response was, "Ok, I kind of get that," but what followed slowly devolved into a kind of big party for the end of the world, with everybody just doing their best choreographic tricks. Here once again Lauren Edson, Ben Behrends, and Annali Rose stood out, but Brett Perry and Ashley Werhun had their moments in the spotlight, too.  And the crowd left happy, if slightly puzzled; but one thing was certain: we were no longer blue.

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