"The art was telling me that things had to change. And they had to change big. Something I created needed to die off. When the company was at its height, when it was at its most successful, I closed it down."
These puzzling words are spoken by choreographer Trey McIntyre in Gravity Hero, his new documentary, which unpacks the rise and fall of his wildly successful dance company, Trey McIntyre Project. When he disbanded the troupe in 2014, the dance world couldn't quite wrap their heads around it. Why stop when you're touring 22 weeks a year? Why stop when you've done the seemingly impossible by creating a thriving company in the dance desert of Boise, Idaho?
The ballet world will converge on San Francisco this month for San Francisco Ballet's Unbound: A Festival of New Works, a 17-day event featuring 12 world premieres, a symposium, original dance films and pop-up events.
"Ballet is going through changes," says artistic director Helgi Tomasson. "I thought, What would it be like to bring all these choreographers together in one place? Would I discover some trends in movement, or in how they are thinking?"
Starting and sustaining a dance company is not for the faint of heart. It often takes tremendous sacrifice in terms of time, energy and money. But it's not a life sentence. Arts organizations, like everything else, come to an end, and nothing could be more important to an artist's vitality than knowing when to call it quits. Even as the founder of a company, there is a graceful way to move on.
A year and a half after closing his company, the choreographer continues to bring dance to film, photography and the stage.
Photo from McIntyre’s upcoming book, Private Idaho. Photo by McIntyre.
The dance world gasped when Trey McIntyre announced in 2014 that he was shutting down his company, Trey McIntyre Project, after six wildly successful years as a full-time troupe. The dashing dancemaker, currently traveling around the country, always had a hand in other projects, such as film and photography, so his next chapter as an independent choreographer/filmmaker/photographer was already in motion. As McIntyre works on both books and a film, he’s also making new dances: The latest, for BalletX, is slated for a February 10–14 premiere at the Wilma Theater in Philadelphia.
What is the new work for BalletX about?
I am using music by Amy Winehouse. Usually, I don’t focus on biographical info, but I am interested in Amy’s story. I identify with portions of her process as an artist, and her death really affected me. It was so tragic. The ballet explores parts of her life that I resonate with. She had a different way of bringing herself and her art into the world; her struggle with that was her eventual undoing. She was miserable, inconsolable until it was right. The world was terrible until she figured out how to make it into art.
What’s the best part of your life now that your company has closed?
I’m able to return my focus to being an artist, and make that the principal activity of my life. It feels like I’m getting back to myself.
What’s been most difficult?
I was always so proud of how nimble TMP was, and I had an amazing staff that made that possible. Now, if something needs to be done, it has to be me doing it.
Tell us about the film you’ve been working on.
This Used to Be My House is about the life and death of a dance company, and my personal journey through that process. This is my first long-form documentary, so I am learning so much every day. As with most documentaries, you learn what it is about after you shoot it. It’s turning out to be autobiographical, with a big focus on the dances I made during the course of the company, especially the two ballets using the music of Preservation Hall Jazz Band from New Orleans, The Sweeter End and Ma Maison. Those pieces examined the unique culture around death in that community, and the film draws metaphorical parallels to the life and death of TMP.
And I understand there are book projects underway as well.
Yes, two, actually! Private Idaho includes nude photos of athletes in the gorgeous terrain of Idaho, with my essays and an intro by actor Alan Cumming. It should be out in a year or so. The second book is about how dancers relate to the place they call home. You can get an idea of my photography from my Instagram, @treymcintyrephoto.