Review: Trey McIntyre Project at Jacob’s Pillow
Is it Basque week in the Berkshires? In the same week that Shakespeare & Company unveiled The Taster, a world premiere by Joan Ackermann that involves an ancient Basque play, Trey McIntyre Project waltzes in to Jacob’s Pillow with a new dance steeped in Basque culture. (And there may be more to come when Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble arrives at Tanglewoood on Sunday night.)
Trey McIntyre’s taking on Basque tradition makes sense when you learn two facts: 1) His company’s base, in Boise, Idaho, boasts the largest Basque community in the Americas; and 2) dance is a central element of Basque culture; indeed, Victor Hugo called the Basques “the people who dance and sing in the foothills of the Pyrenees.” This latter piece of information comes from one of the interviews of Boise Basques that accompany Arrantza, the first of three dances on McIntyre’s program. The piece begins in darkness with a clump of dancers covered in rags. They separate, move to the front of the stage and dramatically whip off their burlap coverings to reveal their costumes – a red kerchief tied around each dancer’s neck; black berets for the men; corset tops for the women—and even before another accompanying narrative tells of the culture’s seafaring ways, we are immersed in stylized jigs with lightning-fast footwork, especially in the final movement, for which the choreographer seems to have pushed his fine, fresh-faced dancers to their limit to keep up with rapid-fire traditional Basque tambourine music in a stunning series of fleet-footed solos.
McIntyre works in the realm of contemporary ballet; the classical training of his dancers is clear in their flawless technique, but their individual personalities shine through and they are game for anything; they attack, with assured deftness, his quick, precise, and inventive choreography, which calls upon them to drop and roll on the floor or toss each other around in untraditional, breathtaking partnering and lifts. From the audience’s perspective, their athleticism seems effortless; demanding physical feats unfold with little sign of preparation, which makes them all the more astonishing.
Is it due to his first name that Trey McIntyre is the master of the trio? His work shines in his pas de trios, not only in the second piece, (serious), for Jason Hartley, Brett Perry, and Chanel DaSilva, but anytime three dancers find themselves working together on stage, creating non-stop, exhilarating tableaus of unison and counterpoint.
It’s clear that McIntyre possesses the musicality of Mark Morris, in his endlessly creative choreography to a vast range of material, with no tendency to ape the songs that comprise his scores, from the modernism of Henry Cowell to the infectious pop of the Partridge Family, whose sugar-coated hit I Think I Love You propels an equally sugary duet in the middle of Wild Sweet Love, the evening-ending crowd-pleaser. This piece has innumerable charms, including the participation of dancers from the community who periodically stream across the back of the stage in silhouette, interspersed with company members who surprisingly emerge from the lineup, distinguished by their white costumes.
The central character, Ilana Goldman looking swanlike in white gloves and stylized wedding, alternately adopts a full-frontal forlorn demeanor and tears frantically across the stage amid joyously dancing couples. By the time we reach the climax, set to Queen’s Somebody to Love, she performs a dance of desperation, set off in a square of light, before she is borne aloft, center stage, supported by the corps, who ruffle her tulle skirt like waves at her hips, and then poof! She disappears,swallowed up by the happy couples, the invisible spinster. It’s a dance as infectious as the accompanying score, the humor of the choreography, and the enthusiasm with which the dancers perform it.
Trey McIntyre Project performs at Jacob’s Pillow through Sunday, August 8