“Ma Maison” is the work that resulted, and it is one of three pieces his contemporary dance company, the sportive and enterprising Trey McIntyre Project, will perform Friday and Saturday at Sidney Harman Hall. The name means “my house,” a comfortable image — even though the theme is not. This work is about death.
But it’s death, down-home style: “Ma Maison” unleashes the raucous celebration of the jazz funeral, the Cajun acceptance of ghosts, the fearlessness of a population that has experienced hurricanes and hardship since its very beginnings — and all of this unspools to very hot music. It’s the sound of the legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band, a New Orleans treasure, adding just the sort of regional musical accent that is a McIntyre specialty.
His company is now based in Boise, Idaho, but McIntyre’s formative years were spent in the South of country music and steamy jazz clubs. New Orleans became a haven during his years with the Houston Ballet, first as a dancer and then as an in-house choreographer.
“Every time I had a layoff, I’d go to New Orleans, to just soak up the culture and meet people,” says McIntyre, 41, in a recent phone interview.
Washington ballet followers have seen McIntyre’s work aplenty: From 2004 to 2007, he was a resident choreographer of the Washington Ballet, which just this February performed “High Lonesome,” his feverish portrait of a dysfunctional family, with music by Beck. And his troupe has brought such sinewy, romantic works as “Like a Samba” (with vocals by Brazilian jazz star Astrud Gilberto) to Wolf Trap.
McIntyre’s company performed last at Harman Hall in 2008. That was also the year “Ma Maison’s” winking toast to the hereafter premiered in New Orleans, when, if anyone needed further evidence that McIntyre follows his own beat, the native of Wichita decided to swim upstream, set down his artistic roots in Idaho, far from the coastal urban centers, and find out whether his brand of unrestrained, somewhat quirky dancing would resonate there. (It has; McIntyre’s company is reportedly thriving in Boise and increasingly touring across the country.) The upcoming program displays this side of McIntyre, the popular touch and the musical ear attuned to the rhythms of the land.
Jazz is the background to life in New Orleans, so it’s no surprise that McIntyre chose jazz to accompany “Ma Maison” and “The Sweeter End,” the second commission from the New Orleans Ballet Association, which premiered in February in New Orleans and which will also be on the Harman program. But though he knew he wanted jazz, McIntyre didn’t know what kind of jazz would do for that first piece. After taking a tour of indoor and outdoor jazz venues throughout the city, he found himself drawn back to the French Quarter, to tiny, un-air-conditioned Preservation Hall.