“Don’t think of a stage as a platform over there, a space removed from your own. Choreographer Trey McIntyre wants you to think of it as a portal, a place of transition that is connected on both sides.
In the world of dance performance, there is no “us and them,” there is only us: It takes both sides of the equation to make a performance work. That’s one of the points of “Gravity Heroes,” McIntyre’s newest ballet and the centerpiece of “Grounded,” which opened the company’s fourth season Saturday. It is one of the Trey McIntyre Project’s strongest programs to date.
He created “Gravity” in Boise with designer Andrea Lauer, who has worked on Broadway and collaborated with McIntyre on “Ten Pin Episodes” in 2008.
It’s an emotional earthquake of a piece, built with McIntyre’s now-signature inventive, athletic movement style that keeps you guessing what comes next.
“Gravity Heroes” is resonant, deeply personal and intriguingly crafted. The ballet blends McIntyre’s tense juxtaposition of tight, technical ballet footwork and explosive contemporary sweeping movement with deeply emotional content, beautifully expressed by the dancers.
“Heroes” follows dancer Brett Perry though a series of experiences that transform him. McIntyre explains the idea behind the ballet in a post-performance making-of video. It is inspired by people who manage to change their lives by defying the gravity (as in the force) of their situation and free themselves to follow a different path.
Lauer’s costumes — ’80s-inspired punk outfits; slick, shiny plastic-like body suits; and spare diaphanous vests that mimic wings — illustrate the transition from stasis to earthquake to new incarnation.
Perry makes the most of the opportunity to explode in the first section, battering donkey piñatas that descend from above. He runs and bats them with his hands, rips them apart. The anger and aggression subside and he’s left stripped to his body suit, ready to absorb new influences, which he receives from a layered and intense trio with Jason Hartley and Chanel DaSilva to Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Crimson and Clover.” These three bonded in McIntyre’s “(serious)” in 2008 and are beautifully integrated here. Next, he watches John Michael Schert in one of his most alluring solos that makes use of Schert’s natural finesse and extension.
The final transition takes Perry past the footlights, off the edge of the stage into the realm of the audience.”
THE DANCE ENTHUSIAST
“The Trey McIntyre Project brought an audience to its feet with two standing ovations during the its performance at the Broward Performing Arts Center on March 3. What only the eyes and heart can absorb, words can sometimes be inadequate in trying to describe the impact of McIntyre’s work. His vocabulary is a ballet technique juxtaposed with contemporary, non-stop, expressive movement that exists in a tradition of choreographers’ works that crossed the divide in terms of style, technique, and music – like Bill T. Jones’ D-Man in the Water; Twyla Tharp’s In The Upper Room; or Mark Morris’ Gloria. McIntyre delivers poignant work that is beautiful to watch and experience, and he has created a company and repertory that is accessible.
In a short video that screened right before the intermission, McIntyre revealed the inspiration for Gravity Heroes, a story he heard on public radio’s program Radio-Lab, about people in the 1950s who rode over Niagara Falls in a barrel. He relates this phenomenon to people who seek change in their lives at the sacrifice of the steady ground beneath them — to go beyond the safe confines and take hard painful risks to get closer to what is meaningful to them.
The piece follows dancer Brett Perry as he moves through various stages defined by three movements in the piece. The first movement McIntyre describes as “destruction…a violent way of changing how things are.” In punk attire, designed by costume and set designer Andrea Lauer, Perry uses his own body as the battering ram against a dozen or more donkey-shaped piñatas that descend from the ceiling. The long-limbed Perry snaps frenetically and springs across the stage like an explosive rubber band as he employs his damage on the colorful iconic figures brought down in shattered pieces. He ends the movement slowly disrobing and figuratively shedding his old layer of raw angst and emotion.
The second stage McIntyre describes as “developing a greater understanding of where you are.” In this movement Lauer brilliantly costumed the company in plastic nude-colored or transparent body suits. The flesh-looking costumes leaves the dancers exposed and vulnerable but at the same time creates a democracy within the dancers who are no longer defined by clothes. In a trio that includes Chanel DaSilva, a dancer with great power and presence, Perry continues an exploration of the space and his own body.
Intense solos and duets further develop this section. Meanwhile, far upstage is about half the company awkwardly reclined on chairs, holding a round inflatable ball in their teeth like pregnant thoughts ready to burst yet too impotent to rupture or float away. They are lit by small single floor lamps by Travis Richardson who has created a dark and dim lit stage with yellow hues illuminating the dancers’ skin.
In the final stage of the transformation, McIntyre states that one is now left to find a new path and create a new journey. Once again Lauer transforms Perry and company as they don sky-blue shorts and feathery, open hoodies that billow and float like small wings. In contrast to his earlier solo, Perry’s movement is now contemplative, personal, and intimate. The audience is invited even deeper as Perry breaks the fourth wall and steps to the lip of the proscenium, descends off the stage — and walks up to a woman in the front row. He extends his arms to her as the audience sits in anticipation. She takes hold of his hands and rises as he brings her closer. He embraces her and just as she reciprocates, the lights go out, leaving the word “US” emblazoned on the curtain that had come down.
McIntyre further shares in his “making-of” video that this experience of escaping one’s own gravity to find a new path and purpose is one that is universal and can be enacted upon by us all. Rather humorously, he describes his reluctance to share the meaning behind this piece as people have gone out and quit their jobs and jumped off the “falls.””
“Again, with “Gravity Heroes,” this same sort of finesse is witnessed when unexpectedly a grid of piñatas descends into view. The piñatas are only momentarily humorous, and quickly serve as something for soloist Brett Perry to strike out against, as they sway through space with dancers running beneath them. “Gravity Heroes” follows Perry through a series of experiences, the kind that defy gravity, resulting in transformation. Perry’s exquisite lyricism, sinewy structure, and natural intensity make him perfect for the task and for captivating audiences.
The choreography is inconsistent and wavering, coming in and out of spectacular, all of which works in its favor and mirrors the quivering vocals of Ray LaMontagne, and the uplifting nostalgic anthem of Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Crystal Blue Persuasion.”
In one titillating scene, dancers perform in Andrea Lauer’s revealing flesh toned, rubber-fetish-shorts and tops, while dimly lit background dancers sit in chairs with flesh toned balloons held in their mouths, a la art-deco figurines. When this scene/movement shifts into the next, Perry’s outfit is changed by fellow dancers downstage into the casual playful outfits of the next, signifying his new incarnation and the emancipation of the dance into its next phase. This section is the most satisfying emotionally and in the buoyant lightness of choreography, ending with Perry’s sliding off the stage and walking to a audience member in the first row with his hands outreached…. Adding to the drama of this section is a sound clip of a caged pigeon fluttering fiercely within a confined space.”