At Wolf Trap, a Dancemaker's Dream Team

By Lisa Traiger
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, August 4, 2006

He's as tall as a basketball player, dresses like a skateboarder and makes ballets that surf emotional heights and depths. And though Trey McIntyre serves as choreographer in residence for the region's big-league ballet company, the Washington Ballet, he doesn't spend much time here. Or anywhere, at least not for very long. McIntyre, 36, a Wichita native and one-time member of the Houston Ballet's corps (where he was too tall to dance much), finds himself in demand by ballet and contemporary companies across the country for his fresh and forward-thinking choreography.

This summer, though, McIntyre has cherry-picked a chamber-size troupe from among the best dancers he has worked with at various regional companies, among them three from the Washington Ballet: Jason Hartley, Jonathan Jordan and Michele Jimenez. The Trey McIntyre Project arrives at Wolf Trap on Tuesday with an evening of new and older works from the choreographer's ample cache of more than 70 ballets. Prolific as McIntyre is -- two years ago he made seven (yes, seven) ballets in a year -- he's also wonderfully inventive. New York Times dance critic Anna Kisselgoff pegged him "a new face to watch" in the early '90s, upon the premiere of "Steel and Rain," a commission by the prestigious New York City Ballet Diamond Project. He has been making dances foot over foot ever since.

His newest, "Go Out," fresh from its world premiere last weekend in Colorado, pays tribute to his Midwestern upbringing, McIntyre said. Drawn to the mournful and plaintive strains of Appalachian bluegrass, particularly Ralph Stanley and John Hartford, whose work gained a wider audience with the success of the movie "O Brother, Where Art Thou?," McIntyre found substance in mountain music, as well as Delta blues, gospel and chain gang chants. "It's a style of old-time singing, and the way it comes out, it sounds very soulful, emotional," he said. "They call it the high lonesome sound . . . and the way [Stanley] sings was really moving to me."

McIntyre choreographed a duet to the a cappella "O Death," following Stanley's hesitations and bent notes, his heavy country accent and rhythmic variations. "O Death" became a danced conversation between a dying man and Death personified. Yet, McIntyre explained, "I didn't want Death to be a horrific figure." Instead, he made Death a nurturing woman.

"She's portrayed as very striking and beautiful. That's because she's the only [one] who can truly understand how precious and vital life is: She's the one who makes it finite. She's the one who has to end it all. She's the one who can truly appreciate the futility of life and how precious it is."

From that initial exploration, McIntyre crafted "Go Out" for his 11 company members, deepening the theme with accompanying sermons, church music and bluegrass selections by the Clinch Mountain Boys, Charley Everidge and Neil Morris, the Sacred Harp Singers and Rev. RC Crenshaw and his congregation.

"The piece," McIntyre continued, "is really an examination of how my own beliefs about God and death and religion were shaped by the area I grew up in."

The program also features "Just," a recent McIntyre quartet with an accompanying piano and percussion score by Henry Cowell. Patrick Long's pink ballet costumes are a sly reference to the classical era, sans tutus, and the evening opens with the breezy bossa nova of "Like a Samba." Think slippery partnering, sandy beaches, a tall cool drink and "The Girl From Ipanema."

"It's a study in simplicity and classical technique," McIntyre said. "Very warm and summery."

Trey McIntyre Project Filene Center at Wolf Trap 877-965-3872 Tuesday

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