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Trey McIntyre Project

'Surrender,' 'Leatherwing Bat' and 'The Reassuring Effects (of Form and Poetry)'

by Carmel Morgan

November 5, 2008 -- Harman Center for the Arts, Sidney Harman Hall, Washington, DC

Trey McIntyre, like another talented young choreographer, Christopher Wheeldon, recently formed his own company to showcase his works.  McIntyre’s nine-member company, “Trey McIntyre Project” (“TMP”), became a full-time, year-round company this year.  As part of its 25-city US touring season, TMP wisely scheduled a stop in Washington, DC.  DC is home to a large number of McIntyre admirers, due in part to his work with the Washington Ballet and his summer pick-up company’s performances at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in nearby Vienna, Virginia.

Less wisely, perhaps, the tickets were steeply priced.  But even at a hefty $70 and up ($100 for the show and a post-performance reception), the theater was fairly full.  Also somewhat unwise were the program choices.  TMP debuted two works by McIntyre, “Surrender” and “Leatherwing Bat,” and also added “The Reassuring Effects (of Form and Poetry),” a McIntyre work premiered by the Washington Ballet in 2003.  None of these dances are among McIntyre’s best; however, thankfully, they do provide glimpses of his estimable choreographic skill.

TMP premiered both “Surrender” and “Leatherwing Bat” at this summer’s Jacob’s Pillow dance festival.  “Leatherwing Bat” is the more successful of these two new works.  An ensemble piece, “Leatherwing Bat” explores childhood and its loss.  TMP’s John Michael Schert, the company’s executive director and also McIntyre’s partner, takes the lead role in “Leatherwing Bat” and soars.  Schert has unbelievably long limbs that threaten to lengthen into infinity.  Part overgrown cherub, part gangly Peter Pan, he’s simply beautiful to behold.

In addition to the wonderful presence of Schert, whimsy and darkness, the ingredients of any good fairy tale, make “Leatherwing Bat” captivating.  The work is set to folksy childhood tunes sung by Peter, Paul, and Mary.  The medieval-inspired costumes by Sandra Woodall give the dance a fanciful feeling, while Michael Mazzola’s lighting design washes the stage in a smoky gray that tinges the work with sadness.  Overall, “Leatherwing Bat” evokes an absorbing atmosphere of memory, magic, and melancholy. 

The dancers move cleanly and musically, with a touch of quirkiness.  When Schert takes a paper airplane in his mouth and closes his eyes, we know we’re in for quite a ride.  At one point, Virginia Pilgrim, another unusually tall dancer, buries her head in the stomach of another like a cat.  Her legs float behind her in a bent-legged kick, her head down low.  The familiar also grabs the audience – a hand over a heart, the shaking of a head, hands on hips like a surly child, holding and rocking.  McIntyre twists these gestures and capitalizes on them. 

“Leatherwing Bat” has an ambiguous storyline.  The dancers seem to double as parents and children.  Fascinating relationships result.  The most interesting of these relationships occurs in the duet between Schert and Brett Perry.  To the tune of “Puff the Magic Dragon,” they comfort one another, lean into one another, and lift each other.  Schert, however, is ultimately left alone.  Bidding a tender farewell to the past, he walks slowly backwards with his long arms wide open until the lights dim.

The duet “Surrender” pursues emotion but never quite catches it.  This doesn’t appear to be the fault of the strong performers – former Washington Ballet member Jason Hartley and Julliard-trained Chanel DaSilva.  “Surrender” traces the evolution of young love.  There is shyness, flirtation, doubt, and happiness, but the intense flames of first love fail to ignite. 

DaSilva is first on the stage in a hot pink, lacy, 50s-style party dress and high heels.  Black curtains are lit by strings of tiny red lights that extend only half-way up, marking off a box in which the dancers interact.  Hartley wears a bright blue wrestling singlet, kneepads, athletic shoes, and headgear.  The lovers-to-be take turns staring, then sparring.  McIntyre’s choice of music is purposefully odd – Grand Funk Railroad’s rendition of “The Loco-Motion,” Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Mirlitons” from the Nutcracker, and “Real Love” written by John Lennon and sung by Regina Spektor.

The dancers resemble action figures – Teen Princess Barbie and High School Sports Star Ken.  They pose and re-pose and sweetly hold hands.  Hartley catches DaSilva mid-toss.  She freezes sitting against him.  They stand in second position and stare at us.  They exchange coy looks.  But in “Surrender” they never completely come to life.

The program closed with “The Reassuring Effects (of Form and Poetry).”  The dancers in “Reassuring” wear costumes by Liz Prince in hues of blue and purple.  The women, who have ruffled behinds, also wear pointe shoes.  They dance to Antonin Dvorak’s “Serenade in E, Op. 22.”  A traditional ballet fan would perk up with signs of recognition of the classical form.

Despite outward appearances, “Reassuring” isn’t a very traditional ballet.  McIntyre certainly lends it his own playful style.  Men hold women upside down.  Partners touch each other intimately.  Men wrap their arms around women, tightly encircling their bodies.  Dancers brush the backs of arms, caress faces, take another’s leg and whip it around. 

In “Reassuring” the duet between Schert and miniature powerhouse Lia Cirio garners the most attention.  With Schert holding her high, Cirio forms a diamond shape with her legs and swims in the air.  She slips in and out of innovative, sailing lifts.  Here McIntyre’s pretty, poetic movement triumphs.

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