Monday, June 8, 2009

Dance: Trey McIntyre Project at the Joyce

Most professional dancers have incredibly chiseled bodies, but Trey McIntyre's dancers take "diesel" to an entirely new level. Perhaps counter-intuitively, their massive, sinewy legs, like those Michelangelo once liberated from blocks of marble (principle John Michael Schert begins Leatherwing Bat in the pose of the Vitruvian Man—different Italian artist, same idea(l)), afford them an incredible lightness and ease; they don't appear to be working at all, or even bound by gravity. This is not an incidental quality—McIntyre is quite conscious of it, as evidenced by the company's two most recent promotional photo shoots: one in which the dancers are suspended underwater, and another in which they soar through the crisp blue aether, weightless in both.

For the show's first two pieces, I admit to being more taken by the dancers themselves than the choreographer. I was constantly distracted from the exuberant movements of Leatherwing Bat by the soundtrack, a medley of children's songs sung by Peter, Paul, and Mary. However charming Puff the Magic Dragon is—don't get me wrong, I love Peter, Paul, and Mary—two men dancing to it is just kind of, well, gay. I'm sorry. Really, it's not the gay per se that is the issue here, but the sentimentality. A man and a woman dancing to the song would likely be just as cloying. But also, my Berkeley education trained me to jerk my knee whenever I see dance that illustrates music—even rhythmically—so this very literal performance, in which one dancer was, indeed, being "swallowed by a boa constrictor" of other dancers, who surrounded the appropriate body part at "oh gee, it's swallowed my knee" and "oh heck, it's up to my neck," fell short of my intellectual standards. (serious), the second piece, was far too serious, a dance very much of a new typology dead on arrival. The three dancers wore white dress shirts and khaki pants, and their unsmiling, frenetic motions to repetitive, unemotive music were less captivating than my typical workday. Art intended to comment on the vapid tedium of our contemporary corporate culture needs to be very wary of being vapid and tedious itself.

But McIntyre redeemed himself—as an Artistic Director, as a choreographer, and as a middle American (the company is based in Boise, and the carefree, gritless, jubilant quality feels very out of place in neurotic, hyper-intellectual, self-conscious New York)—with Ma Maison, a piece so astounding that I questioned whether I was watching the same company. It was a fair question, because the dancers wore masks. Yes, masks. A kind of tribute to the New Orleans' funeral jazz tradition, Ma Maison features nine ghoulish skeletons dressed to the nines in black and white and pink and green and yellow, in fishnets and stripes and tri-corner hats and pearls, dancing like mad to the wailing horns of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. For the first five seconds, it feels like a gimmick, and then you realize that it's brilliant. Race disappears, and the ultra-white, effete, and emotionally flaccid performance of Leatherwing Bat goes with it—these dancers are suddenly loose in their joints, shaking and shimmying and rolling like, well, non-whites.* It is as if putting on the masks and the fun, madcap costumes let the dancers drop out of the aether and back to the ground, where, as one of my dance teachers used to say, the funk is.**

*Sorry. This is the most politically incorrect post ever. I mean everything I say here with a non-judgemental love for all people, even Osama Bin Laden, whom my yoga teacher says I must love.

**"The funk is not up there. You got to get down, down, down, down, down," etc., cue James Brown impersonation.

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