From the beginning of his career as a choreographic apprentice at the Houston Ballet in 1989, Trey McIntyre has been his own man, with a strongly individualistic approach to life and dance.
“I’m not sure why I was drawn to dance as an artistic medium in the first place,’’ says the choreographer, 42, in a recent phone conversation. “I’m as interested or more interested in the other arts. But I’ve found it’s how I can understand things, break them down and go beyond talk and intellectualizing. It’s primal, atavistic.’’
That primal energy is on display in McIntyre’s “Blue Until June’’ as dancers leap and circle, split apart and spin, set to the music of Etta James, her voice raw and deep. World Music/CRASHarts presents the Trey McIntyre Project in “Blue Until June’’; “The Sweeter End,’’ set to music by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band; and “Bad Winter,’’ with a score by the Cinematic Orchestra, at the Institute of Contemporary Art Friday through next Sunday.
Establishing The Trey McIntyre Project in Boise, Idaho, in 2008 certainly demonstrated the choreographer’s maverick streak. And despite outsiders’ condescension toward the city, he and his troupe have thrived there. McIntyre’s star has only risen since then, with the company making two major national and international tours over the past four years. It was also selected by the State Department and the Brooklyn Academy of Music to be one of four troupes to participate in DanceMotion USA, through which the company will tour as a US cultural ambassador to Asia this spring. But even before Boise, McIntyre was earning commissions from American Ballet Theater, New York City Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and other prestigious companies.
Dancer John Michael Schert, who cofounded the company and serves as its executive director, sees McIntyre as similar to Steve Jobs in the strength of his belief in his vision and ability to employ all aspects of media and technology to promote it. Almost everything the company does is posted on YouTube, often accompanied by interviews with McIntyre or his dancers. But he particularly admires McIntyre as an artist. “Trey is the greatest American choreographer of this generation,’’ Schert says, “inherently American, honest, earnest, and very vulnerable. He wears his heart on his sleeve and registers everything emotionally.’’
That includes the experience of living in Boise. “It’s a very calming place,’’ says McIntyre, who was born in Kansas. “People smile and look you in the eye. It’s unencumbered by chaos, and great for me as a choreographer as a place to find space, and what’s even more essential, breathing room. The dancers and I have come together here for a common purpose. It’s liberating. The people have embraced the company as their own; they trust us and come to see everything we do.’’
The program in Boston offers a good spectrum of McIntyre’s work. “It follows my journey,’’ he says. Choreographed in 2000 for the Washington Ballet, “Blue Until June’’ conveys the seriousness of his ideas. “I’ve always felt that our popular music and culture promotes hyper-romantic ideas of love,’’ he says, “which give rise to unrealistic expectations. This leads to conflict and trauma between couples.’’ At one point, the dancers appear to crawl from under the earth, covered with dirt, representing the romantic illusions of youth. The hard-earned wisdom in James’s voice, he says, is a perfect accompaniment.
Controversy about the piece also demonstrated something about McIntyre’s character. Planned for a program the Washington Ballet would take on tour to Cuba, it includes a romantic male duet that could have offended Cuban government officials. He was told that if he didn’t take out the duet, his piece could not be presented in Cuba. “I realized at that point,’’ he says, “that it was more than just a choice about that duet, it was a choice about the responsibilities of an artist.’’ He refused, and ultimately won out - and the program was broadcast all over the country. People approached him in the streets of Havana, praising his work.
McIntyre choreographed “The Sweeter End’’ (2011) as a tribute to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, filling it with the city’s spirit. “Trey hits its essence on the nose,’’ says dancer Chanel DaSilva, his muse for the piece. “It’s so authentic - street gritty, get down, get dirty gritty. It’s like having a party onstage. What a testament to New Orleans, its culture and its people.’’
Dancers also love working for the Trey McIntyre Project, they say, because the company can afford to pay them full-time salaries 35 weeks per year and provide health insurance, rarities in the dance world. In addition, they are entitled to an education from Boise State University that takes their tour schedule into consideration.
In a new piece, “Bad Winter’’ (2012), McIntyre turns autobiographical, inspired by a recent period of depression. “It’s a kind of diary,’’ he says. “I’ve never liked winter, but this was worse. I felt like I was living in a horror show. I came out of it counting my blessings, making more sense of life.’’ An accompanying work by the Cinematic Orchestra fully caught his mood. “It was as if the music was made for the dance.’’
What’s next? McIntyre, who has made short dance films, plans to do more filmmaking and write novels and short stories. He recently published an essay on the experience of being an artist. But dance remains central. “I know no other way to get below the surface of life that’s so full of challenges and surprises,’’ he says.