Trey McIntyre is a bright light, a brainy ballet choreographer whose best works fuse visceral physicality with a deep and true humanism.
That certainly should be good enough. But McIntyre has made himself something of an ambassador for dance, in addition. He and his company of 10, Trey McIntyre Project, have been embraced in their Boise, Idaho, hometown, and beyond. Theirs is high-art professionalism with an open source heart and soul.
The Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa adopted Trey McIntyre Project a few years ago, and the group was back this weekend for performances that featured the world premiere of the center-commissioned “Ways of Seeing,” an indoor-outdoor, partially improvised performance that was the program closer.
“Ways of Seeing” invited the audience to consider the view from behind the curtain. Starting inside, McIntyre came onstage, grabbed a microphone – “Hello Costa Mesa!” – and walked us through a spontaneous creation for Brett Perry and Chanel DaSilva. This impressive interlude gave the other dancers time to take their places on three circular mini-stages out on the plaza. Once the audience flooded outdoors, the larger “experiment,” as McIntyre called it, began.
Pre-recorded videos were projected on the center’s wall and on a large screen, and were interspersed with a live feed of viewers’ rapt faces, captured by videographer Kyle Morck. Some of the performers threaded among the crowd and cavorted informally to a musical medley (the night’s music was recorded), including a blaring “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin.
This chaotic, immersive environment was the thing, a perspective welcome for its intimacy, but not so much for substance.
Substance was the purview of the first three dances, all of them new, having premiered earlier this year. McIntyre’s output is prodigious, and I wondered, for the first time, if he is risking overextension. His craftsmanship is unquestionable, but it was harder to feel his meaningful reach in this program, that singular connection between movement and spirit.
That was particularly true in “The Unkindness of Ravens” (a Segerstrom Center co-commission), which featured three female modern dancers from South Korea, a collaboration born from a recent State Department tour to Asia. The winsome So Jin Lee was a standout.
“Ravens” was intriguing, but also opaque (literally). It contrasted a darkness of spirit with ribald jokiness, and animal versus human natures. The dancers took turns wearing two pointy birds’ wings. An inky production kept the leaps and lumbering sideways motions difficult to ascertain clearly.
Four onstage spotlights choked the stage space (lighting by Travis Richardson), while costume designer Sandra Woodall’s black leather knickers, vests and skull caps evoked an ominous scene, which was underscored by a final, flaming conflagration (danced to Johnny Cash singing “Ring of Fire”).
“Bad Winter,” on the other hand, was a potent gem. Using “Pennies From Heaven,” McIntyre crafted a poignant solo for DaSilva of soft footwork and pleading sincerity, with optimism prevailing. A love duet for Travis Walker and Ashley Werhun laid bare the interplay of autonomy and dependency in love, an old topic tackled with fresh abandon.
Finally, “Ladies and Gentle Men,” used songs from the 1970s Marlo Thomas TV show and book, “Free to Be…You and Me,” to explore tolerance and the outward shell people wear to hide and protect inner feelings.
The songs’ powerful messages nearly bulldozed over the equally sincere dance phrases; it was almost too much. So was a thankfully brief scene of tough-guy Ryan Redmond beating up Benjamin Behrends. Redemption came from a solo for Travis Walker, a fluid and sorrowful bit of balletic, moving poetry that flowed from the heart of one of our most gifted dance-makers.