Trey McIntyre Returns to the Company Where He Got His Start—With a Bowie Playlist

March 9, 2020

If you’re watching a slew of ballet dancers alternate between explosive technical feats and highly nuanced “real people” movement, with iconic rock music blasting, there’s a good chance that Trey McIntyre is in the room.

Most recently, this room happened to be at Houston Ballet, the very place that nurtured his early life as a dancer and choreographer. During his time at Houston Ballet as choreographic apprentice in 1989, and later as choreographic associate from 1995 to2008, he created seven ballets: Peter Pan, Touched, Skeleton Clock, Second Before the Ground, The Shadow, Curupira and Bound.

Although the company has returned to his popular full length Peter Pan several times over the years, and In Dreams in the 2017/18 season, this is McIntyre’s first new work for the company in nearly two decades.

As Houston Ballet turns 50, it feels fitting that its 150th premiere belongs to a talent culled under its own roof. “Hey, I’m 50 now, too,” McIntrye quips. His work Pretty Things will premiere as part of Forged in Houston on May 21-31, which also includes two other works made on Houston Ballet’s dancers, Hush by Christopher Bruce and ONE/end/ONE by Jorma Elo.

At 50, McIntrye appears at peace with himself and his process. Now a Brooklyn resident, he’s in an “It’s all good” state of mind. “I love New York this time around, nothing bothers me anymore.”

And he’s not exaggerating when it comes to the “all” part. Pretty Things, set to the songs of the great late rock genius David Bowie, is jam-packed with his signature clever movement ideas.

Harper Watters flies through the air in a pitched forward second position as Trey McIntyre walks toward him in a rehearsal studio.
McIntyre rehearsing soloist Harper Watters

Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet

First, let’s get to the choice of Bowie. “Well, I am becoming known for making dances set to music by great rock bands and other pop legends,” he says with a humble tone. So far he’s choreographed to music by Queen, The Cinematic Orchestra, Amy Winehouse, Aretha Franklin, Grand Funk Railroad, Beck, The Shins, Roy Orbison, Paul Simon, Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Peter Paul & Mary, to name a few. (Fear not, Prince is on his wish list for the future.)

McIntyre has an extraordinary talent for choreographing not about the song, but something much more atmospheric. With little interest in making movements to words, his dances rise to their own poetry that exists side by side to the music, creating a visceral dynamic.

Bowie has been on his bucket list for a while now. “He was a superstar, so groundbreaking,” says the choreographer.”I was looking for a set that would create a journey,” he says about the ballet’s narrative arc. “There isn’t really a story, but there is a sense of life cycle.”

Although McIntrye walked into the studio with a playlist of eight Bowie songs, which includes such searing anthems as “Ziggy stardust,” “Changes” and “Young Americans,” the actual choreography emerged in the moment. These days he enlists a zen-ish attitude in his creative process. “I don’t prepare anymore,” he says. “It’s all here,” pointing to the space behind his head, “my job is to get out of the way.” With well over 100 dances under his belt, he’s earned that in-the-moment approach.

Although he doesn’t describe the choreographic process as collaborative in the initial stages, because the movement choices come directly from his imagination, he does acknowledge the tendencies of the dancers in the shaping of the piece. “I may notice what they do with an idea, and then lean more into that direction.”

Pretty Things
is a ballet for 11 men and concerns the life of a performer. “What do you call a group of peacocks?” he jokes. This flock of Houston Ballet men do their fair share of peacocking as the ballet unfolds in an array of stunning solos interspersed with rousing bro clusters ensemble unison.

Christopher Coomer jumps high in a parallel passe, hands over his heart. Two dancers lie flat on the Marley on either side of him.
Soloist Christopher Coomer

Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet

“You have to be somewhat of a preening narcissist to be a performer, with a desire to be seen and in the spotlight,” he says about the vibe of the piece. Although competition is definitely in the air, there’s also a climate of support, revealed in all the spectacular partnering. He reframes the act of showing off as something positive and uplifting, literally so, as we see several men take their turn soaring through the airspace with the help of their friends.

There’s a generous dose of eye-popping big ballet steps, but they have been McIntrye-ized. “Men are always jumping and turning, so I have to ask what else do I have to say here.”

It’s obvious that the dancers are cherishing their time with McIntyre, as they are diligently going over spacing and other details before rehearsal actually starts. They are giving it their all. “These dancers are so quick and so great,” he says. “I love the way they work together to figure things out.”

Since shuttering his company in 2014, McIntyre has been on a creative roll, with Gravity Hero, a well recieved film behind him, photography books in the works, and his recent world premiere, The Big Hunger, for the San Francisco Ballet. He also recently started a YouTube channel focused on his artistic adventures.

At ease with his life and work, he McIntyre adds, “I come with joy and an open heart.”

UPDATED 3/12: Due to concerns related to COVID-19, this ballet’s premiere was delayed from March 12-22 to May 21-31, dates which were originally held for the company’s From Houston to the World program. Current tickets holders will receive further information from Houston Ballet.