Your Flesh Shall be a Great Poem


Reviews

The New York Times

“Eight of the 12 commissions turned out to be vividly distinct examples of dance theater…
True, I’m eager to revisit only two of these — “Your Flesh Shall Be” and “Hurry Up” — but these eight were so striking, so fully developed along their own lines, that the four evenings all felt substantial.

Mr. McIntyre’s “Your Flesh Shall Be” and Mr. Pita’s “Björk Ballet” are both to recorded music — and both amazingly odd. Because Mr. McIntyre’s subject is often the vulnerability and private impulses of young adults, his ballets can come close to sentimentality; what fends that off is the peculiarity of the ardently human behavior he dramatizes. Each Garneau song here features a different group of young people, all outgoing and endearingly raw (with choreographic phrasing of wonderful dynamics), until it ends with the two solos for Benjamin Freemantle, who not only dances with a four-legged stool but at one point buries his face into it as if into a mask. The quality of private fantasy here is as disconcerting as it is touching.”

San Francisco Examiner

“this week held more surprises than last week’s Unbound A and B. Choreographers in Programs C and D pushed beyond the safe neo-Balanchinian language to which so many contemporary ballet makers default.

Most notably, Trey McIntyre’s “Your Flesh Shall Be A Great Poem” and Dwight Rhoden’s “Let’s Begin at the End” each in radically distinct ways allowed movement to push against and upend tired formulas that trap so much contemporary work.

McIntyre’s “Your Flesh” is emblematic of the choreographer’s brand of wistful sweetness and wry meditative engagement.

Through unabashed use of pop culture (songs by Chris Garneau) and undulant, Rube Goldberg-style movement, he allows dancers to use the floor and engage in acrobatic maneuvers without eradicating the dance’s ballet-ness. With a title taken from Walt Whitman, allusions to death and an eclipse evoked by Alexander V. Nichols’ dramatic set design, McIntyre goes far in embodying a lush and deeply democratic engagement with the human and natural world.”

SF Gate

“Trey McIntyre offered the mostly indescribable and altogether wonderful “Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem.

In “Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem” (from Walt Whitman), McIntyre offers an autobiographical essay, mingling memoirs of the choreographer’s eccentric grandfather with a meditation on the recent solar eclipse. In this intimate gem, Benjamin Freemantle seems to summon events of his past as they drift in and slip away. Nostalgia is a boon and a curse. The vocabulary shuns traditional ballet and favors an arm-rolling, floor-hugging style, yet McIntyre’s musical sensitivity is a compelling force.

In his dances, this choreographer works mostly with pop music, and he seems to inject it into his dancers’ bloodstreams. Here he transmutes Chris Garneau’s wistful and bouncy songs into a second skin, and the result is a bittersweet triumph. It helps that Freemantle (recently promoted) may be giving the performance of his young career. Jennifer Stahl and Sasha De Sola were two of the women drifting through the protagonist’s life story.”

San Francisco Chronicle

“When the curtain rose on “Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem,” a revival of Trey McIntyre’s piece from last year’s Unbound festival of new works, a different and far more effective image dominated the stage. What appeared to be a solar eclipse was ringed by a halo of light. So there it was right from the start, a marriage of darkness and its opposite.

Emerging slowly from the shadows, Benjamin Freemantle began to carve out a space for himself, from exultant outflung arms to closed-in hunches and nervous quivers. He made an immediate and enduring impact — another male dancer who scored big on the “Lyric Voices” bill.

Good as he was Freemantle was anything but a solo act. To a series of winsome original folk songs by composer Chris Garneau, everybody in the cast of nine got moments to shine, often in beguiling partner work. McIntyre knows how to make dancers need each other, whether it’s a couple of men in an elegant and sometimes edgy depiction of friendship or the women swooping around playfully.

There was a meandering quality to “Flesh” (the title comes from Walt Whitman), as the recorded songs came and went quickly. But there was also an undertow, signaled when lighting designer James F. Ingalls conjured up some swirling dark clouds.

McIntyre has said his piece was inspired by photographs of a grandfather he never met, a connection across time. You don’t need to know that to feel the emotional pull of the piece. When it came to the final scene, a remarkable duet for Freemantle and a small wooden stool, the possibilities bloomed.

The stool, in Freemantle’s adroit variations, was the sun or moon, an old man’s face blotted out by dementia, bones or the shoots of a plant when the legs were turned up. Strange but true, it may have been the most eloquent bit of partnering all night.”

San Francisco Chronicle

“Virtually everybody loved Trey McIntyre’s “Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem,” a deeply personal memory piece that dipped into a variety of dance styles and left its protagonist in his briefs wrestling with a four-legged stool, all set to a catchy rock score. Ambiguity has rarely seemed so inviting.”

Washington Post

“McIntyre’s piece, “Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem,” stood apart in inviting lingering contemplation. A program note describes McIntyre’s fantasy of meeting his grandfather as a young man. An image of a solar eclipse introduced the idea of a portal through time, a bridge to the imagined past. This was echoed in the dancers’ floating quality, and there were many moments where I caught my breath. In one, lead dancer Benjamin Freemantle bounded into the air, and as his arms lagged compared with the speed of his descent, he seemed to fall through water.

Recordings by folksy singer-songwriter Chris Garneau lent a sense of nostalgia and play, echoed in the knockabout spirit among the other male dancers. There were tender duets among them; women drifted through beautifully and left, and finally Freemantle tangled with a wooden footstool in a curious but oddly moving solo, in his boxers, with the moon looming behind him. Aging, solitude and grace were gathered gently together, with an exquisitely light touch, and the effect was like vapors in an updraft.”

Dance Europe Magazine

“Trey McIntyre’s work is more usually performed in America, where the choreographer has built up a considerable repertoire. While the last piece I saw of his, for New York City Ballet, was competent rather than extraordinary, his Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem is an entirely different animal and showed his talent to exciting effect. McIntyre, having recently found a 1920s photograph of his grandfather, arrived in San Francisco to begin rehearsals on the day of a solar eclipse and began to imagine the lining up of the moon and sun creating a portal through which he was able to be with his grandfather. The ballet begins with a solar eclipse projection on the backcloth. It is bookended by two solos for Benjamin Freemantle in underwear; the first has an almost playground quality as Freemantle explores the steps and his own physicality in quirky, intriguing movement that is immediately expressive of the exploratory nature of McIntyre’s time-travelling inspiration. The closing solo reminds us of an old man approaching the end of life, confused, perhaps lonely, wandering aimlessly towards his last moments. The intervening dances, some joyous and lively, some contemplative, hint at episodes from a life and are choreographed with a highly imaginative, engaging individuality that made me want to see more, much more, of McIntyre’s work. His music choice, songs written and performed by Chris Garneau, was refreshing and apposite; simple designs highlighted the dancing; imaginative use was made of a stool which became a quirky, fitting partner for Freemantle, who is a superb dancer, long limbed with beautifully articulated feet and plenty of stage charisma.”

DanceTabs

“I have to admit that I don’t always refer to program notes before a dance performance. Don’t get me wrong. I’m definitely someone who’s interested in background and context. But from time to time, I think it’s valuable to see dance free of framing. See what resonates in the moment. In those instances, I will often read the notes after the fact, which is what I did with Trey McIntyre’s Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem. In that post-performance reading, I learned that the work is personal, familial, about McIntyre’s grandfather. When I was watching it, I may not have known who the ballet was about, but the human journey Flesh traversed was undeniable. Its layered narrative collage, danced by a cast of nine, communicated a range of emotion and connection.

Flesh had an epic start, almost cinematic. The curtain rose ever so slowly, like an old-school movie where the credits come at the beginning rather than at the end. A bright moon illuminated the backdrop. With a distinctly frontier feel, Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung’s costumes placed the action back in time; Chris Garneau’s folksy recorded score lilted through the air, like trees rustling in the wind. What followed was a suite of dance vignettes (each one set to a different Garneau selection) where multiple aspects of the human condition were explored.

Solo work factored heavily in Flesh, which made sense considering the dance had a protagonist. Skillfully interpreted by Benjamin Freemantle, it was the emotional quality of the solos that really struck. Particularly the feeling of absence. Alone on the stage, Freemantle looked out into space, his gaze fixed longingly on the horizon. You could feel that something was missing. Was he yearning for connection, searching for connection or remembering a connection from the past? While I enjoyed these solos, I actually felt that Flesh’s emotional breadth was conveyed more strongly in the dance’s small groupings. Two dancers faced front, near each other, but not touching. Their hands softly covered their hearts, then their mouths; an attempt to transfer their feelings into words. Their arms reached for each other, but they were unable, or maybe even unwilling, to make contact. The distance between them, whether literal or figurative, was too great. But Flesh wasn’t all heaviness. Plucky staccato footwork brought joy to the table. High soaring lifts and jumps in Isabella DeVivo and Steven Morse’s pas de deux, elation and excitement.”

The Guardian

“Dance often works its deepest effects through the gaps and ambiguities of its language. In contrast to Wheeldon’s over-signalling, the charm of Trey McIntyre’s Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem lies in its willingness to let the audience find their own way into the material.

The work is about McIntyre’s grandfather, who died after suffering years of dementia. Set to the waif-like folk songs of Chris Garneau, McIntyre’s choreography cleverly evokes the past without sentimentalising. Freemantle as the young grandfather dances among his male friends with a slightly stilted jocularity. He flirts with sweetly artless young women, and McIntyre adroitly captures their individual vulnerabilities in the rawness of the characters’ steps and their eccentricities of phrasing. At the end, when Freemantle is left alone, dancing a strange, ragged duet with a three-legged stool, we glimpse the pain of the grandfather losing his mind and the choreographer trying to piece it back together.

Flesh is a very personal work, authentic and generous.”

The Arts Desk

“Ballet has never been particularly adept at addressing the way we live now, but two of the most successful pieces attempted it. Trey McIntyre’s Your Flesh Shall Be A Great Poem, set to quirky songs by Chris Garneau, sprang from reflections on his grandfather’s dementia. And yet it was full of light and happiness, viewing the end of life as childhood in reverse. The closing solo (pictured, top) for a man stripped to his boxers who found 101 ways to use a bathroom stool was both ingenious and moving.”

Seeing Dance

“Trey McIntyre’s Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem (the title is a slight misquote from the preface of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass) is emotionally very personal and poignant. It’s a look back to the choreographer’s grandfather, a man he never met, although with whom he believes he has a shared perspective on life.

The making of the ballet coincided with a solar eclipse, and McIntyre opens and closes with a video of one such projected on the backdrop. He saw it as a sort of portal through time. It certainly sets the tone for the work.

At the ballet’s centre was Benjamin Freemantle as the grandfather. His opening solo sees him as a dreamy young Adonis. While clearly classically-based, there’s lots of trembling hands and feet, and floorwork too. A series of vignettes drop in on what McIntyre imagines his life was like. There’s some playful male camaraderie and even a hint of male love.

Personal works can sometimes be so personal that they struggle to communicate, and that is a bit of a problem here, but then comes Freemantle’s closing solo. McIntyre’s grandfather suffered from dementia in later life and loss, and attempts at remembering but forgetting are all to fore in a dance of elegant shapes, of stretched limbs, of his back arched, all sometimes is deep slow motion. His stool, which plays a significant part in the dance, reflects a face, and then the moon. It was so eloquent, the dance reaching out and grabbing you totally.

Musically, the dance is sensitive too. McIntyre likes to work with popular music (he’s recently made a piece to the works of Aretha Franklin for Parsons Dance) and here layers Chris Garneau’s folksy and wistful songs in a way that makes them seem a perfect fit.”

BachTrack

“Anyone with a scintilla of knowledge about dance in London would be familiar with Wheeldon’s work but few will know much about the choreography of Trey McIntyre whose extensive repertoire has been mainly created in the USA. On the evidence of Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem, a fresh take on the age-old themes of death and remembrance, we have been missing out.

It was not the subject of McIntyre’s ballet that I found refreshing, but the eclectic choreography itself. His work was subliminally themed on a grandfather that he never met, inspired by the discovery of a photograph amongst his late father’s belongings, and of stories about his grandfather’s dementia. The work begins with a solar eclipse on the backdrop, an event that metaphorically opens a portal through time, reconnecting grandson and grandfather, allowing the flesh to be made a poem. It began and ended with solos from Benjamin Freemantle, closing with a reference to McIntyre’s confused grandfather wandering the streets in his underwear.

McIntyre has chosen eight tracks from the third album (El Radio, 2009) by American singer-songwriter, Chris Garneau, as the trigger for his choreography and it seems as if music written for the purpose. Such personal works are often so discrete as to be inaccessible to others, but McIntyre has used his family affiliation to make dance that is happy and sad, and above all an affirmation of the power of legacy. His grandfather lives on through this great Terpsichorean poem.”

Seen and Heard International

“Men figure prominently in Trey McIntyre’s Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem (2018). Rather vulnerable-looking men who move in the uneasy atmosphere created by the refreshingly cynical music and lyrics of composer, Chris Garneau. Two women who move around them, in short nighties worn over leotards, seem stronger. One of them is Jennifer Stahl, pleasingly freed from the narrative constraints of Cathy Marston’s Snowblind (Programme B).

Combining film of a solar eclipse with the life of the choreographer’s grandfather, who suffered from dementia, Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem seems to be the most ‘American’ of all the pieces that San Francisco Ballet have performed: the America of John Cheever, James Purdy, Kansas as one imagines it in the 1920s, and Walt Whitman, from whose work the title is taken. It ends with a solo by Benjamin Freemantle (whose body is a poem) that must count as one of the most interesting and moving solos for male dancer to be performed at Sadler’s Wells.”

British Theatre Guide

“It’s the middle piece, McIntyre’s Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem, quirky, joyous, stirring, which is the most memorable of the three. A lengthy title taken from Whitman’s 1855 preface (it’s worth reading in full) to his Leaves of Grass poetry collection, it pays respect to McIntyre’s grandfather, an undertaker no less.

A newly found 1920s photo of grandpa, an eclipse of the sun on the first day of rehearsals, and McIntyre had his way into the past—a ‘portal through time’ of the eclipse, he says. His grandpa’s dementia plays a role, too, in the evocative vignettes of his life, Chris Garneau’s folksy songs the perfect setting, an eclipse projection on the backcloth.

Benjamin Freemantle’s soft avian arms solo sets the tone: here is a young man flying towards the light. Male friends join him—jocks in costumes suggestive to me of The Great Gatsby. Male friendships à la Whitman, heads on shoulders, till a man is left alone to be joined by a young woman.

Then by two frisky, leggy girls in baby-doll nighties—and do Sasha De Sol and Jennifer Stahl have fun with them. Do I hear a Kurt Weill cabaret rhythm? Sharp legs, soft arms, they bewitch me never mind the men.

The piano makes me think of silent movies, and there’s a happy country gal and her beau that could have stepped out of any Hollywood musical of the period. But then, there’s a cloudy night sky video projection (grandpa’s clouding mind?) and Freemantle returns in boxer shorts, trousers in one hand and wooden milking stool in the other.

And dances with that stool to a fairground sound—what doesn’t he do with the stool: swims on it, flies on it, handstands on it, he loves it dearly, and finally obliterates his face with it. His face a ‘Magritte’ blank—oblivion, dementia. Mikhail Baryshnikov in his Twyla Tharp and Robert Wilson phase couldn’t do it better.”

The Stage

“Against the backdrop of a solar eclipse, the dancers in Trey McIntyre’s Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem are playful Pierrot-like creatures acting out fantasy relationships in an animated, cartoonish style. Amusing and affecting, it is both ingenious and disingenuous.”

Credits

  • Choreography: Trey McIntyre
  • Music: Chris Garneau
  • Costumes: Reid and Harriet
  • Lighting: James Ingalls
  • Project Details

  • Premiere Company: San Francisco Ballet
  • Date of Premiere: April 24, 2018