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U.S. Contemporary Ballet Troupe Embarks on First Tour of Asia

By Lauren Monsen | Staff Writer | 23 February 2012
Four dancers (one woman, three men) performing onstage (Enoch Chan)

Members of the Trey McIntyre Project perform a 2011 piece, The Sweeter End, showcasing the troupe's signature mix of bold choreography and imaginative storytelling.

Washington — The Trey McIntyre Project (TMP), a contemporary ballet company known for its “American heartland”–inspired dance aesthetic, won immediate critical acclaim and a devoted following when it burst upon the scene in 2005. Based in Boise, Idaho, the company performs original works that combine a classical ballet foundation with fresh, innovative choreography evoking its founder’s Midwestern roots.

Kansas native Trey McIntyre, the choreographer who leads the troupe, said he hopes his artistic vision — shaped by what he describes as a “deeply American spirit” of openness and optimism — will soon resonate as powerfully with audiences in Asia as it does with fans across the United States. McIntyre and his dancers will tour Asia for the first time in May and June, when they visit China, South Korea, the Philippines and Vietnam as part of the U.S. State Department’s DanceMotion USA program.

The program, produced by the Brooklyn Academy of Music, showcases dance as a form of cultural diplomacy by presenting U.S. dancers as cultural ambassadors to the world. “It feels like a tremendous honor to represent our country, and to do it through the medium I know best is a privilege,” McIntyre said.

McIntyre cites his childhood involvement in musical theater as the impetus for his career. “I wasn’t particularly inspired as a dancer, but I was creative and had a very creative teacher,” he said. “She cultivated my interest in choreography. I love the idea of creating something from nothing.”

His Wichita, Kansas, background not only informed his artistic approach, but influenced his decision to locate his dance company in Boise. It made no sense to settle in a large city like New York or San Francisco, where there is already an abundance of dance troupes, said McIntyre. He looked for a town or city that would strongly benefit from a new dance company and would share his “heartland” perspective.

“Boise is an ideal environment for what I do,” he explained. “It has the second-largest Basque community in the world. In Basque culture, dance is paramount.”

TMP’s arrival was “a big shot in the arm for the city’s nascent dance community,” which quickly embraced the newcomers, he said. The troupe “found local sponsors, which kept ticket prices low,” and secured its audience by “courting everyone: college students, professors, senior citizens, African refugees and other immigrants.”

TMP dancers are excited about traveling to Asia, having previously toured in Europe and South America, McIntyre said. “I’m always shocked by how similar audiences’ reactions are, wherever we perform,” he added. His troupe’s repertoire often explores uniquely American themes — such as the wide-open spaces of U.S. prairies, or the rebuilding of New Orleans — but McIntyre said the dancers’ language of movement strikes an emotional chord even among viewers unfamiliar with those themes.

For example, “German audiences, who are accustomed to very cerebral, avant-garde dance, responded very favorably” to TMP’s exuberantly athletic performances, McIntyre said.

In Asia, TMP will introduce audiences to three of McIntyre’s works: Leatherwing Bat, a nostalgic tribute to childhood with music by Peter, Paul and Mary; In Dreams, set to the music of Roy Orbison; and (serious), which examines different interpretations of the word “serious” through a trio of dancers wearing business attire. That final work, McIntyre said, suggests “there is no limit, there are an infinite number of possibilities.”

In addition to performing, TMP will engage in outreach activities with local communities in the four countries on its tour. Also, to inaugurate DanceMotion USA’s first international exchange, McIntyre will choose an Asian dance company to tour the United States.

His dancers look forward to making new friends in Asia, McIntyre said. “We want to show up with complete openness and find out what our similarities are, and our differences, and learn from that.”

Three other U.S. dance companies are slated to tour overseas in 2012 via DanceMotion USA: New York’s Seán Curran Company, which will visit Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan; the Jazz Tap Ensemble of Los Angeles, which will visit Mozambique, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of the Congo; and Rennie Harris Puremovement, a Philadelphia hip-hop dance troupe scheduled to visit Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Jordan.

More information about the Trey McIntyre Project and DanceMotion USA is available at their respective websites.

Chanel DaSilva leaping in air (Jonas Lundqvist)

TMP dancer Chanel DaSilva is airborne as she leaps into the sky, displaying the grace, athleticism and dynamic movement that the Trey McIntyre Project is known for.