Trey McIntyre Project
Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts
August 7, 2007
by George Jackson
copyright ©2007 by George Jackson
Eleven dancers are in McIntyre’s summer Project but even one of them alone on stage projects amply throughout Wolf Trap’s big pavilion and beyond to people sitting on the sloping lawns. Some of the reasons for this are McIntyre’s doing. He chooses his dancers for their distinctive features and not merely for technique. He also has his lighting designers help with crescendos and diminuendos when the choreography itself doesn’t quite suffice. That the pavilion — despite the spread of its seating areas and the dimensions of its stage — does not belittle the human figure is due to its architects. What a pity that dance isn’t presented as often now as when Mrs. Shouse opened the park in 1971!
Distinctly different ballets were on the program, like last summer for the Project’s initial visit. The opener, "High Lonesome," told a story. Action and appearance rather character designations or names in the printed program conveyed this: an Innocent (short Jonathan Jordan wearing russet shorts) finds his place in a group of Adults with Experience (two women and two men dressed in summer whites). The adults can’t always help themselves as they conflict and cohere. Desire and anger charge the atmosphere. The boy learns about life through observation and participation. At the end, presumably, he attains enlightenment.
The piece starts strongly. The Innocent is the most defined of the five characters. He is adventurous and inquisitive like Tom Sawyer and then becomes compassionate too, like Huck Finn. It is an active role, requiring both bravura dancing and dramatic expression. Jordan gave it his all, and if he didn’t fully fuse virtuosity with emotion, that might be the choreographer’s fault. McIntyre allowed the storytelling to become external. At first we participated in the boy’s education but, as the plot proceeded, we no longer experienced his growing awareness or felt his deeper understanding. Prior to the curtains closing, he comes to sit in a brilliant light with his legs folded under him, Buddha-like. The image is distinct but coldly so for it remained closed and emotionally remote.
That McIntyre doesn’t display all his characters in detail makes good dramatic sense. The woman in the white dress (Dawn Fay) is partly defined as being possessive. That’s the most important thing about her and we don’t need to know much else. Aptly, too, the other three adults (Anne Muller wearing a white slacks outfit, Garrett Ammon who might be dressed for the tennis courts, and Jonathan Dummar with white coveralls) are more elusive. The boy’s final state, though, should be felt. Those who remember Antony Tudor’s similar" Shadowplay," saw a more passive hero than McIntyre’s but one who externalized his inner being.
"The Blue Boy," for three dancers, is not narrative but does have themes. Silhouetted against a luminous background was a dark figure posed like the one in Gainsborough’s famous portrait. This body, though, was slimmer, longer and more angled at some of the joints. In a good riddance gesture, it discarded an object. Its gender was indeterminate until the lights came up and we saw that Blue Boy is not a travesty role but was being taken by a man. His barely blue costume is less voluminous than that in the portrait, otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to see his joints. Both his placement and movement are highly articulated — a manner long associated with George Balanchine’s women dancers and lately, too, with Alonzo King’s men.
Two women join Blue Boy. The first is plump, wears a deep blue robe and dances plushly, turning and stretching with a creamy flow. The other, a bit boney, is in a white tunic and punctuates steps with classical precision. When all three figures dance concurrently, a visual polyphony develops and also one of allusion. Is the blue robed woman from the world of art too, perhaps a Madonna? Is the one in the white tunic a Muse? By combining different dance qualities and different symbolic traditions, McIntyre seems to be experimenting with the 1930/40s symphonic ballet style of Leonide Massine.
Be that as it may, I wanted more dancing. As with "High Lonesome," the piece seemed unfinished. Is McIntyre’s a sketch talent rather than one for perfecting and polishing movement ideas? The Blue Boy was the program’s only ballet to classical music — the Largo of Beethoven’s first piano concerto. Unfortunately the recording (or the night’s humidity dampening the sound system) made mush of Beethoven. John Michael Schert, who dances regularly for Alonzo King’s Lines Ballet, was Blue Boy with Michele Jimenez as the Madonna and Alison Roper as the Muse. When the women depart, Blue Boy picks up the object he discarded early on — we can now see that it is a hat — and resumes his enigmatic, inscrutable, isolated pose.
"A Day in the Life," McIntyre’s Beatles ballet, had the audience cheering. Set to a dozen of the boys’ songs, it is long and uneven. Filler passages alternate with inventive sections. The men’s dances look best: pairing Jordan with his demiclassicism and athletic Jason Hartley, and then adding Schert with his faceted technique, suggests relationships among the Beatles. Also on the bill was "Crying," a brief duo for Dawn Fay and Garrett Ammon from McIntyre’s "In Dreams." During the curtain calls the choreographer himself presented flowers to the two dancers. That puzzled the audience. It turned out that this was Fay and Ammon’s final appearance; they are retiring from performing and in the future will teach and direct.
For those with classical hearing, McIntyre’s “rock ballets” could be worse. Beck’s Odelay pieces do add up to a score that supports the "High Lonesome" tale. The Beatles songs seem tame these days, and the pas de deux hadn’t enough of Roy Orbison’s sound to irritate. With dance experience, one learns to tune out much annoying sound, even when it is diminished Beethoven.
Nothing of this year’s Project was as good as last year’s Death and the country folk piece, "Go Out" (danceviewtimes for Aug.21, 2006). Still, I’d like to see "High Lonesome" and "The Blue Boy" again, reworked.