Trey McIntyre in Park City

Trey McIntyre’s dance company came to Park City this weekend, giving me the chance to see a group that has been lauded by a large subset of my friends and colleagues. New Yorkers, residents of the project’s former home in Boise, and our very own Kathy Adams of the SL Tribune have sung McIntyre’s praises for innovation, unpretentiousness and approachability.

The opening number this Saturday fit the bill. “The Vinegar Works: Four Dances of Moral Instruction,” drew inspiration from writer and artist Edward Gorey. Set to Shostakovich, this ballet is equal parts “Nightmare Before Christmas” and “The Nutcracker”. It even features a twenty foot tall Death in the role of Mother Ginger. Death looms over his mortal foil (Brett Perry), and periodically births new characters onto the stage from under a long black gown. Ashley Werhun’s manic solo, in a section vaguely evoking incest (“Deranged Cousins”) was the act’s highpoint. I felt like I was watching Shelley Duval at her weirdest, inexplicably dancing ballet. It was a precious moment that felt like adult content, hidden within something that might well have been made for children.

McIntryre’s craft reflects an omnivorous dance-diet where ballet occupies the cereal base of the food pyramid. There’s also a healthy dose of what one might call “classic modern”. When we talk about seeing movement associated with Graham and Humphrey in the current context, we often focus on how technique has shifted, improved or worsened. Contemporary performers are often spoken of with praise by elders, who state that “technique in general” has become “better” and has diversified. Indeed, these dancers too, had chops. However, there’s something odd, which I’d never quite noticed before, about seeing “contractions” and “fall and recovery” completely drained of their political context–– both macro (how these legacies relate to the world at large) and micro (how they function within the “story” of [post]modern dance). Here, McIntyre provides an eery but thought-provoking perspective I don’t think a modern dance group (or a European ballet company) could have given me.

Even more diverse in its stylistic influences, yet less successful was “Mercury Half-Life”. This hour-and-fifteen-minute work occupied the post-intermission act. McIntyre was determined to use the music of Queen to prove something Twyla Tharp and others have also confirmed–– Americans like big, ballsy ballet danced to the broadly popular rock-and-roll. This work was simply far, far too long. The costuming–– the women in Halloween nurse uniforms and the men in some illegible male version there of–– was at best confusing. The onslaught of sound and movement contained moments of virtuosic promise, but almost no choreographic development, no real pattern or theme emerging in my viewing experience save a nagging sense of vicarious embarrassment.

Samuel Hanson writes frequently for SLUG, 15 Bytes and lovedancemore.