Commissioned to make a dance about Glacier National Park, Trey McIntyre could have taken the easy route. He could have produced a feel-good homage to its majesty and natural beauty. But, fortunately for the audience at the world premiere of "The Sun Road" at Wolf Trap on Wednesday night, he decided to dig deeper, making a work that highlights our disconnect with our imperiled environment.
The work opens with a video projection showing dancers from his Idaho-based company, Trey McIntyre Project, standing in Glacier, the men outfitted in tuxedos and a woman wearing a flouncy red ball gown. In their fussy, formal getups, they are hopelessly out of place.
The video gives way to a series of solos onstage by the male dancers in black garb, who shift effortlessly from classical ballet pirouettes to low, sweeping jumps and quirky hand and wrist gestures.
The work, part of Wolf Trap's "Face of America" series, hits a fever pitch when the soundtrack switches abruptly from pop music by Paul Simon to intensely percussive Native American music. The dancers in the video projection, still gussied up in their formalwear, begin moving aggressively, grasping and kicking up dirt, leaning on rocks, lifting their coats so they flap in the breeze. As they engage with their environment instead of just coexisting with it, they suddenly look like they belong there.
In the last section, Ilana Goldman stands alone onstage in a dim pool of light, pristine and goddesslike in a black dress equipped with a dramatically sculptural hoop skirt. Dancer John Michael Schert clings to her legs, which contorts the skirt into a new shape, and finally he peels it from Goldman's body entirely. She exits, and he is left alone clutching the mass of misshapen fabric. In a dance about land that man has endangered through climate change, the imagery was stark and clear.
Preceding "The Sun Road" was a set of songs about Glacier by guitarists Jack Gladstone and Rob Quist and pianist Philip Aaberg.
-The Washington Post