A more modern Modern Dance
“Why are we here? Why do we exist?” Trey McIntyre said, over lunch Wednesday (March 3).
Not so many choreographers pose such existential questions. The vastly talented McIntyre, whose company has been in Milwaukee Since Feb. 28 and will dance at the Marcus Center on March 9, asks them every day about his Trey McIntyre Project.
His answers have to do with the way dance and dancers relate to a rapidly changing society. Is it enough to go on stage and put on a great show? McIntyre doesn’t think so.
“You have to create a context,” he said. “We love to come in and do things beyond just a show. You have to engage the city to the greatest extent possible.”
Visits to hospitals and schools are part of it, and so are the usual master classes for local dancers. McIntyre and his dancers have taken on a heavy load of such workshops, at UWM, at the Milwaukee Ballet studios and elsewhere. The ballet company and UWM’s dance department are hosting the Milwaukee residency. They were also involved when McIntyre’s company danced at the Sharon Lynn Wilson Center in 2008.
McIntyre and his nine dancers find ways to get in the public eye side by side with local dancers. Just now, he’s put together a guerrilla-theater type dance for Milwaukee Ballet II, MBC’s apprentice troupe, and his own to perform in shopping malls, restaurants and on the street, with just enough planning to assure that no one gets arrested.
“We could do it here,” he said, gesturing toward the cozy confines of La Perla restaurant. “Different spaces require dancers to be adaptable. They have to see the big picture, the intent, rather than just their steps, to make the piece work where you are.
“We just came from Temecula, in California. No one was buying tickets. So we went downtown, where they’ve preserved this Old West feel, and danced in the streets. We sold the show out.”
McIntyre sees such activity as more than mere promotion. Dancing in the streets of Temecula or at Mayfair Mall or the Milwaukee Public Market is all part of putting on a dance that spans the area. The stage show might be the culmination of that dance, but it’s only a part of a grander event that spreads over days and a whole city.
“Popular culture tells us that people want greater access,” McIntyre said. “Interaction captures the imagination.”
McIntyre, 40, has ensconced his little company not in New York or San Francisco, where he lived for years, but in Boise, Idaho. His theory is that the big dance centers don’t need a seventh or eighth or 50th company. He felt he could go to Boise and make a mark, and by all accounts he has.
“They have tried so hard to be part of that community,” said Jodi Peck. “And it’s worked. You should have been at their last concert in Boise — sold out, 2,ooo people jumping and yelling.”
Peck, a Milwaukee native a former chair of the Milwaukee Ballet, chairs McIntrye’s far-flung, 13-member board. She helped launch the Trey McIntyre Project in 2007, after his second stint as a Milwaukee Ballet guest choreographer. Her involvement explains why TMP performed at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center in 2008 and why the company is back now.
Peck got to know him in 2004, when McIntyre set his miraculous The Reassuring Effects (of Form and Poetry) on the Milwaukee Ballet Company.
“I saw that and thought oh my god I have to meet him,” Peck said.
They kept in touch and became friends. When McIntyre was ready to launch his company, he asked Peck to chair his board. She accepted immediately. Katie Heil and Nancy Einhorn, also important Milwaukee dance fans and donors, joined her. The board donates or gets about 40% of the company’s lean, $1.5 million budget; the rest comes from performance fees. TMP does not self-present anywhere but Boise, as a matter of policy. It takes guaranteed fees from presenters rather than renting a hall and hoping to sell out.
Ma Maison, which TMP will dance in Milwaukee Tuesday evening, is an example of the sort of project McIntyre prefers. He and the company spent a month in New Orleans last year, getting to know the city and working closely with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
“A love affair bloomed between those old musicians and these young dancers.” McIntyre said. “It’s a piece about different cultures coming together.
A tour with the band is scheduled, but the company will dance to a Preservation Hall recording and to vintage recordings of New Orleans’ Sister Gertrude Morgan in Milwaukee. The costumes, comprising skull masks and stylized suits, has Mardi Gras and Day of the Dead elements.
“I took my cues from voodoo,” McIntyre said. “New Orleans culture has preserved a place for death.”
Wild Sweet Love, like many Trey McIntyre dances, juxtaposes different styles of music. In this case, it’s Mendelssohn’s Wedding March, a Roberta Flack song, a Partridge Family tune and more. It will feature a new dancer, Ilana Goldman. She’s 5’11” — tall for a woman, and outrageously tall for a female ballet dancer.
“I was really tempted to come out of retirement to partner her,” said McIntyre. He’s 6’6″.
The ball started rolling on Ten Pin Episodes when McIntyre took a phone call out of the blue from someone who’d just bought a commercial building in Boise: Trey, I just found 200 bowling pins in the basement; want ’em?
“I took them into the studio and just wondered how I could relate to these objects,” McIntyre said. “I discovered that: (A) They’re five pounds each. Who knew? (B) They’re shaped a lot like human bodies. And (C) they’re about one perfect moment, one point of perfect balance, but otherwise they’re all about falling over.”
The dance is about the “relation of persons to these objects.”
“The pins are props,” he said. “It’s fun to whack them together.”
Some humor might rise from that, but don’t expect pratfalls and exaggerated comedy from Trey McIntyre dancers.
“I have a certain sensibility, of grounded energy in space,” he said. “I think it comes from growing up in Kansas, with those plains all around.”
He coaches presentation and affectation out of his dancers. He wants his audience to see real people having a real experience of dancing, even if a whiff of character is choreographed into the steps. McIntyre doesn’t want his dancers to pretend.
“I don’t want them to approximate something they think they’re supposed to be feeling or, worse, approximating what they think the audience wants them to feel.
“I enjoy what I perceive as honesty on stage — and not just on stage. It’s how you live your life. And if the dancers are doing it every day, I have to do it, too.”
The Trey McIntyre Project will perform at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 9, at Marcus Center Uihlein Hall, 929 N. Water St. Tickets are $48 and $40 at the Marcus box office, 414-273-7206. This just in Monday March 8: Exclusive TCD 10% discount via Event Usher. Click on the link and enter the code TMPtickets.