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Trey McIntyre Project stretches traditions

BECKET -- For a ballet lover in the 21st century, it is thrilling to see the art form in the hands of a skilled choreographer who can mine the traditional vocabulary for all it's worth while imaginatively stretching its boundaries. Hot young choreographer Trey McIntyre has created more than 60 ballets for companies ranging from New York City Ballet to Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. But in the summer time, he ``borrows" 11 superb dancers from some of the best companies in the country to tour his own group, aptly named the Trey McIntyre Project.

After last summer's wildly acclaimed East Coast debut at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, the company returns this year with three very different pieces. While none are groundbreaking, all are beautifully crafted and stunningly danced.

``Like a Samba," set mostly to Astrud Gilberto's definitive stylings of songs by Antonio Carlos Jobim , is all cool elegance with a touch of Latin pizzazz. As the three men and two women fluidly connect and disconnect, the clean balletic lines of their phrases are complemented by playful details -- an angular shimmy of the shoulders, a lascivious little wiggle of the pelvis, heads deliberately cocked off center, gestures that roil and pop.

In a quicksilver solo by Dawn Fay, fleet footwork is set off by pauses highlighting nuances in the hands and swivels in the legs. Jonathan Dummar dances a gorgeous muscular solo of athletic leaps and balances. To ``The Girl From Ipanema ," Michele Jimenez leaves two ardent admirers in her wake with a captivating blend of the sweet and sultry.

The new ``Just," premiered by Oregon Ballet Theatre in February, plays off the slightly exotic ``Set of Five for Violin, Piano and Percussion" by American iconoclast Henry Powell. To modal melodies enriched by gamelan-like chimes, the dancers moved with a kind of reticulated flow coursing through their bodies and out their limbs. Though the ensemble was not always completely uniform, the individual dancing was fabulous, as was Michael Mazzola's lighting design for this work and for ``Samba."

McIntyre could do better by the female dancers. They're treated more uniformly, less adventurously than are the men. Perhaps McIntyre feels constrained by the conventions of putting the women on pointe, or perhaps he's still learning to find the source of that vocabulary in his own body -- his creative process tends to be improvisatory, and he's a whopping 6 feet 6 inches tall. However, he gives the male dancers distinctive dance personae and lots of latitude, sending them through space with athletic power and traces of feral energy.

The East Coast premiere of ``Go Out," parts of which were danced here last visit, is McIntyre at his most narrative. Supposedly examining ``the lives of people in the South and Great Plains and how their ideas of God, religion, death, and superstition are shaped," the work casts death as a cold-hearted woman in a red dress (Alison Roper) who calculatedly menaces a community. As a whole, the work is a little puzzling and diffuse, but it has some marvelous moments, including a group dance that pulls in the stomps, claps, and floor patterns of traditional folk dance.

Most memorable is the final duet between Roper and John Michael Schert, she threatening his life, he straining for survival, pleading for mercy as Ralph Stanley sings the dirge-like ``O Death." The ending tableau is a stunner.

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