The last time choreographer Trey McIntyre came to town, he had death on his mind. Among the works his company was performing on that 2011 visit was “Ma Maison,” his jittery tribute to New Orleans jazz funerals, Cajun ghosts and the city’s defiance in the face of finality.
Nowadays, McIntyre is again contemplating death. But this time, it’s personal. He’s dealing with the death of his company. A death he’s bringing about himself.
The Trey McIntyre Project (TMP) will make its final local appearance June 11 at Wolf Trap, performing McIntyre’s “Mercury Half-Life,” accompanied by the music of British rock band Queen, and the darkly comic “The Vinegar Works: Four Dances of Moral Instruction,” based on stories by Edward Gorey, chronicler and artist of the grisly and absurd.
What might Gorey have made of the curious demise of McIntyre’s company? It’s not dying from a lack of money, gigs or community support. By all accounts, the nine-dancer contemporary ballet troupe has been a thriving success, touring around the country and the world from its home base in Boise, Idaho. Yet performances at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Massachusetts at the end of the month will be its last.
In a recent phone interview, McIntyre, 44, lets out a long breath when asked why he’s shelving the group he formed with much fanfare in 2008, after a careful search led him to reject New York and San Francisco in favor of quieter headquarters in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
“Where do I start?” he says, before his thoughts spill out in a rush.
“When I first moved to Boise, the advice I got was, ‘Don’t do it. You’re going to disappear off the national dance landscape,’ ” he says. At the time, McIntyre was nationally known and rising fast. A former member of the Houston Ballet, he was a precocious choreographic talent. Companies nationwide and worldwide performed his works, including the Stuttgart Ballet, the Miami City Ballet and the Pacific Northwest Ballet. He’d served as resident choreographer for several troupes, including the Washington Ballet. He made six works for that company, including the enduring hits “Blue Until June,” with vocals by Etta James, and “A Day in the Life,” with music by the Beatles, both of which the Washington Ballet performed this season.
McIntyre had started TMP as a summers-only road show in 2005. When he began it full-time, he ignored advice to operate out of an arts hub on one of the coasts. What he wanted most, he says, was an affordable home and a welcoming community. He got both, and more. Boise lavished his troupe with love. Its mayor named TMP the city’s first cultural ambassador; the dancers received free services from medical centers and hotels. Each season, fans filled the 2,000-seat Morrison Center for the Performing Arts. McIntyre’s dancers had a 35-week annual salary and health insurance. The company toured half the year.
Perhaps the better advice for McIntyre would have been: Be careful what you wish for.
“In some ways, because the business model worked, the scope of what we did grew bigger than what I intended in the first place,” he says. Instead of luxuriating in a slower-paced life and working deeply on his dances, McIntyre grew immersed in administrative tasks: fundraising, crafting fliers and videos, designing the troupe’s Web site, speaking at events throughout the community, leading activities at hospitals and myriad other duties that took him away from the studio.
“I’m really burnt out,” he continues. “Some of that could be the fault of my personality. I’m very much the kind of person where, if there’s a need, I’m going to be the one who jumps in there to fulfill it. And the places of need are pretty endless. . . . I’ve done too much for too long.”
He adds, “I’m incredibly introverted, and it’s so weird that the profession I ended up in is so extroverted. Part of me really craves going inside and working on myself.”
The company’s swift growth has led to some hitches. One occurred a year ago, when John Michael Schert, a former TMP dancer who had become the troupe’s executive director, resigned following a story about TMP by the online business site CNNMoney. The story claimed that Hewlett-Packard was paying the dance company about $20,000 for dance presentations to inspire its office workers. That turned out not to be true. The troupe had performed a few times for the tech giant in Boise, for free, as part of HP’s annual outreach to local arts groups. Schert was quoted throughout the piece, which was written by the daughter-in-law of a TMP board member, all of which was viewed as an awkward attempt to promote the company. CNNMoney published an editor’s note about the errors and corrected the story.
“I wasn’t privy to any of the interview conversations between John Michael and CNNMoney,” McIntyre says, adding that Schert’s departure didn’t affect his decision to fold the company. “It was important to transition out of this phase while the company was in a successful place and not let my own diminished capacity cause it to dwindle.”
The burnout hit about two years ago, McIntyre says, and that’s when he started talking to the dancers and staff about his plan to scale back. Early this year, he let his dancers know this was the last season.
He sold his house and became a renter. He’ll stay in Boise for the time being, as he focuses on film projects such as one combining dance and environmentalism that he made in Glacier National Park in 2009, for Wolf Trap’s “Face of America” series of park tributes. He’s finishing a documentary on the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, a group based in New Orleans’s French Quarter whose old-time music McIntyre used in “Ma Maison” and another piece. The film entwines the New Orleanian embrace of death with the end of his company. He’s also working on an autobiography, told in part through his photographs.
Last month, he created a dance for the Pennsylvania Ballet, and he intends to do more freelance work, “though not to the same extent I was before TMP.” Australia’s Queensland Ballet will perform his “Peter Pan” in the coming season.
TMP’s final Boise performances in March were bittersweet, say those who were there.
“I had people come up to me literally in tears,” says Chanel DaSilva, 28, a founding member of the company. “You realize, wow, we really did it here in Boise, Idaho. We reached out to the community and they reached back.”
DaSilva has returned to her native New York, and is readjusting to its pace, and price, after life out West. After the company’s tour ends, she’ll join the New York-based Camille A. Brown and Dancers.
Three other TMP dancers have found jobs with companies or choreographers, a few are going into theater or teaching, and two are retiring from dance.
“It is a bit sad,” TMP dancer Brett Perry wrote in an e-mail. “We have invested a lot of time, energy and passion into this company. . . . The company could have continued on for however long it wanted to, but if Trey isn’t 100 percent invested and sure that this is what he wants, then I think it was the best decision.” Perry will dance with Aszure Barton and Artists as a freelancer in the fall.
“We’ll feel the loss, there’s no question,” says Michael Faison, executive director of the Idaho Commission on the Arts. McIntyre’s dancers are “much loved. . . . They are so energetic and so creative, and frankly are just so much fun to work with.”
But Faison, echoing the views of Perry and DaSilva, praises McIntyre for changing course on his own terms. “I admire his guts to take the risk to step out of something that was working, to challenge himself and recognize he was evolving artistically,” he says.
Says McIntyre of his company: “The next leap isn’t to find a way to make it last forever. A better way to honor it is to let it be ephemeral and let it go.”
The Trey McIntyre Project Wolf Trap’s Filene Center, 8:30 p.m. on June 11. Tickets, $10-$44. 1-877-WOLFTRAP (877-965-3872) or visit www.wolftrap.org.