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Dance REview

At Jacob’s Pillow, an exhilarating exit for Trey McIntyre Project

At Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Trey McIntyre’s “The Vinegar Works: Four Dances of Moral Instruction” (above) and Brett Perry in McIntyre’s “Mercury Half-Life” (below).

Trey McIntyre

At Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Trey McIntyre’s “The Vinegar Works: Four Dances of Moral Instruction.

BECKET — Earlier this year, the Trey McIntyre Project announced that following this week’s performances at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, this contemporary ballet company — adored for its eponymous director/choreographer, his exhilarating, idiosyncratic works, and his small group of compelling dancers — would fold. There may be no crying in baseball, but some of us are in the dance world are feeling a little verklempt.

Or, whatever.

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No, I kid, I contextually kid! “Or, Whatever,” is the postscript to Edward Gorey’s “The Deranged Cousins,” the title of the third section of McIntyre’s 2014 “The Vinegar Works: Four Dances of Moral Instruction,” a ballet whose funny, non-sequiturial weirdness pays homage to the late Gorey’s hilariously bizarre writings and drawings.

A twitchy, Victorian atmosphere in black, white, and gray is conjured in four vignettes. Though the rest of “Vinegar” is set to Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No. 2 (performed live by the skilled teenage musicians of Chicago’s Trio Solaris), Brett Perry’s magnificent opening solo is accompanied by a recording of Alan Cumming’s droll recitation of the “Gashlycrumb Tinies,” one of Gorey’s wicked alphabets: “A is for Amy who fell down the stairs, B is for Basil assaulted by bears. . .”

Perry and Elizabeth Keller — a towering grim-reaper figure — appear throughout “Vinegar,” lightly binding the bits together but also playing a subtle game of cat-and-mouse over, presumably, Perry’s soul.

A series of grotesque characters appears, as if tumbling out a giant storybook (though sometimes they are spit out of Keller’s accordion-like skirt). The Beastly Baby, performed with obnoxious exuberance by John Speed Orr, stumbles, rolls, and leaps like a bloated tick while three others look on first with prim horror, then relief, when Baby is pecked at and finally dispatched by a hungry eagle. Those Deranged Cousins wander vacuously about like restless flappers until one by one they perish. Designed by Dan Luce and Michael Curry, Keller’s skirt and that eagle (a puppet manipulated by two dancers), Bruce Bui’s vivid costumes, plus a zombie-nun and bowler-hatted, fur-coated goons all add to the “Thriller” meets “The Nightmare Before Christmas” delirium.

It is great fun most of the time, although I wonder if some of the clunky transitions would benefit from more narration from the Gorey stories. Of course, McIntyre may feel reticent about interrupting the live musicians, something he clearly isn’t hampered by in his 2013 “Mercury Half-Life,” an athletic, boisterous dance set to a medley of songs by the legendary rock band Queen. Creating a ballet to the likes of “We Are the Champions” might be the undoing of many an otherwise fine choreographer: As with his earlier dances set to the music of folk and pop icons, McIntyre avoids both sentimentality and cheesiness — a juggling act even more cunning given the fact that some of the dancers break out into full-on tap-dance numbers.

As the title suggests, “Half-Life” is a celebration of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, who died of AIDS at 45, but it’s also an unabashed gala showcasing these striking dancers. A series of solos and small groups (whooshing breathlessly by, a McIntyre trademark) are augmented occasionally by gathering-of-the-troops ensemble pieces, simple formations pulsing with march-like struts or high-kneed jogs. Though Perry and Chanel DaSilva, two longtime company members are, as always, superb, the others stand in no one’s shadow.

T is for Trey who is just terrific, and for thanks, for the memories.

Janine Parker can be reached at
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