Trey McIntyre, the Music Man

June 9, 2009

    Just when I was wondering why his music choices work so well, Trey McIntyre sauntered in to my office yesterday and gave me a clue. I had just seen his Leatherwing Bat, to music by Peter, Paul & Mary again at the Joyce. (I saw it at Jacob’s Pillow last summer and reviewed it in the November issue.) I love their music—so wistful and witty in a gentle way. Obviously Trey loves it too.

    The first lyric you hear is, “I’m being swallowed by a boa constrictor and I don’t like it very much.” This is for the opening solo by John Michael Schert, who has a faraway look, like he could be a child hearing this song or the adult caring for the child, or, well, the snake.  

    Trey told me that the song scared him as a little kid so he used to listen to it over and over until he wasn’t scared by it any more. The piece has a little of that feeling of taming a fear. The children’s voices in a couple of the songs find a response in the mischievous groupings of the ballet, but there are also some slightly brutal moments.

    Trey tends to make a certain type of movement, stringing together ballet steps with shakes, shudders, and scuds. It worked very well for Leatherwing Bat but also, with twanging the string in this direction or that, works well for other pieces too.

   The second piece, (serious), to music by Henry Cowell, gives Trey an opportunity to get serious. This trio of strong dancers is clearly striving for something. The dance has an emotionally clear arc. They start out on parallel tracks and end up together, needing, grasping each other.

    The last piece, Ma Maison has music by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, which is part of New Orleans’ history. (It premiered last fall with the band playing live in New Orleans.) McIntyre went whole hog with Mardi Gras–type costumes, skull masks, and loose-jointed jive that jiggled and knocked knees. It was like laughing in the dark when you’re not sure if you’re happy or horrified. The music definitely brought Trey’s movement to a more giddy place.

    No matter where the music takes him, his natural phrasing tends to be in short units because there is so much movement he wants to put in each measure. I wish that occasionally he would surrender to the music in phrasing as much as he does in mood. For instance during the sustained vocal lines of the Peter, Paul & Mary, I was wishing he would let the music and dance breathe just a little bit more.

    And it’s dangerous when a choreographer chooses music that is familiar. (I wasn’t crazy about Trey’s Beatles piece for The Washington Ballet simply because that music was too much a part of my life for me to relate to his choices, which seemed sanitary to me.) But in general, he makes bold music choices and then sticks with them artistically. This, I think, is one of the secrets to his success. The three pieces on the program at the Joyce were all different from each other and consistent within themselves because of the way he honored the music.


Leatherwing Bat with Dylan G-Bowley, Lia Cirio, Virginia Pilgrim, John Michael Schert, Annali Rose, Brett Perry, Christopher Duggan. Photographed by Ben Rudick