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High-flying McIntyre Project is grounded in the ballet tradition

BECKETT -- With more than 60 ballets under his belt, 35-year-old Trey McIntyre has emerged over the past decade as one of the hottest choreographers in the dance world. He has ballets in the repertories of such prestigious companies as American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, and Stuttgart Ballet, and two years ago he was named one of Dance Magazine's ''25 to Watch."

After years of freelancing around the world, he has assembled his own small troupe, the Trey McIntyre Project. This week's appearances at Jacob's Pillow mark the company's East Coast debut, and Thursday night's performance showed why McIntyre is well worth keeping an eye on.

Unlike many contemporary choreographers, McIntyre's vocabulary is grounded in the ballet tradition, and he isn't afraid of pointe work. In fact, it's part of what makes his dances so distinctive in this era of ballet/modern dance fusion. For him, toe shoes offer more lift to a woman's carriage and extension of balletic line, and they enable stronger distortion of the line when the foot is bent, flattened, or curled inward. Emotionally, they often suggest a restrained civility, formality yearning to break free.

''The Reassuring Effects (of Form and Poetry)," set to the sweeping lyricism of Dvorak's ''Serenade for Strings," unspools with a fluid, organic grace. This gentle, lighthearted romp for eight, originally choreographed for the Washington Ballet, is classical all the way, from individual steps to a structure that makes the most of lively patterning but leaves room for eloquent duets featuring traditional male/female partnering.

Even the exquisite central duet (beautifully danced by Michele Jimenez and John Michael Schert) took conventional partnering as a launch pad, springing from there to a propulsive coupling that had a hint of desperation, with limbs sinuously intertwined and weight freely traded.

The large group sections go by in a breezy rush of partner changes, and here McIntyre is not above embellishing familiar moves with sly, quirky twists. Elegant lifts spin upside down. An extension becomes a kick. A penche sends the dancer face first into her partner's hand. An arm thrust to caress a stomach nearly drops a dancer in an orgasmic swoon. Arms are as apt to slice like windmills as curve in gracious port de bras. Nicholas Phillips's stunning lighting design created a gorgeous striped floor and striking spot-lit tableaux to end each section.

The edgy ''High Lonesome," set to the offbeat songs of Beck, has a jiggy rhythmic bounce and a skewed, ever-changing context. Though McIntyre subtitles it ''This Is About My Family," it's hard not to see a little ''Desperate Housewives" in this saucy dance, dominated by Dawn Fay costumed in a white cocktail dress and gloves. The group's uniformity is disturbed by the bare-chested Jonathan Jordan, who seems like an exotic pet (or the hunky lawn boy) determined to woo with muscular lunges, acrobatic floor spins, and leaps that corkscrew midair.

Excerpts from the new ''Go Out" were set to twangy bluegrass tunes that evoked a mournful quality to the mesmerizing, conflicted duet between Schert, dressed as a simple farmer, and Alison Roper, clad in the vivid red dress of a Wild West madam.

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