Straight arms and flexed feet, the piece developed a sense of primal rhythm not experienced in traditional ballet. The dancers accommodated the different form wonderfully, performing very dynamically with choreographed clapping and explosions of jumps.”
“In Dreams,” choreographed in 2007, is a small work: two men and three women dressed in black, a tribute to Roy Orbison, to whose songs they dance. The lighting is low and intimate, as in some nighttime haunt. The dancing is clear, expansive and uncluttered. Orbison’s magnificent voice fills in the rest of the picture, flooding the stage, washing over the seats with his distinctive emotional fullness. It delivers the potent surprise that North Carolina’s pairing of bluegrass and ballet did. Orbison and ballet: Who’d have imagined that one could refresh the other, and both would emerge tinged with even deeper feeling?
McIntyre distorts ballet steps for emotional effect, substituting broken angles and flat feet where you expect long lines, but he preserves a silky, stylized elegance, even in the sudden collapses and shudders. There was an especially poignant duet to “Crying,” danced by Steven McMahon and Jane Rehm, where falling backward was the silent response to Orbison’s anguish. Rehm melts into McMahon’s arms as if her bones had dissolved; later, when McMahon throws himself backward into empty space, it’s as if an undertow has seized him.”
Part of the interest of Mr. McIntyre’s work is that it catches fragments of that heartbreak while never trying to illustrate the songs’ words literally. The lyrics say one thing, the dance says another, but they stay in close connection both in mood and in details of phrasing. And so he negotiates the difficulty of choreographing to music so generally appealing that it might easily overwhelm most dances.
Though “In Dreams” makes its dancers look good, it’s not concerned with technical skill. It starts with, and often returns to, a striking formation whereby its five dancers travel, softly and close together, around the stage: this has a dreamlike quality. Then the way one or more dancers separate themselves from the group makes them seem characters in (or dreamers of) the dream. Even when they’re looking out front, they appear to be sightless.
A passage of footwork may suddenly tie in to a figure in the musical accompaniment, a sudden lift may catch a salient note in Orbison’s singing, a dancer may arch back on a closing chord, but much of the choreography floats around the music. In solos, duets and trios, different images of need emerge; but even though the duets are intense, it’s as if they’re happening in the traumatized unconscious. “In Dreams” — which I imagine would make more impact in a smaller theater — is distinctive, touching, and ambiguous.”