Trey McIntyre Project’s farewell tour to Berkeley


The Vinegar Works premiere

The ten-year-old Trey McIntyre Project is changing its current artistic medium and structure and moving on to explore new creative fields. According to McIntyre, the founding and guiding force behind the company, film, photography and the plastic arts are the next direction his artistic attention will focus on. To celebrate the completion of this phase of McIntyre’s career, he has brought his wondrous company of 10 dancers to Zellerbach Auditorium. Last Friday and Saturday the group performed one World and one West Coast premiere. 

The first of these and the opening piece of the program was an homage to Edward Gorey. Titled The Vinegar Works: Four Dances of Moral Instruction, the piece presents four mini compositions that invigorate the gothic and slightly macabre tales of illustrator and satirist with the dancers’ very real physical presence and talent for droll kinetic comedy.

What was stunning to me was McIntyre’s choice of Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No. 2, Op.67 as the supporting music for this walk on the strange side. Shostakovich is not the composer that springs to my mind when it comes to fey stories of babies being carried off by large carnivorous-looking birds or ’30s-garbed cousins in black-and-white gridded skirts and long grey sweaters who clobber each other with sticks of wood, or alternatively drink themselves to death, or drown in the long black robes of Death. OK, maybe the latter. But as it happens, the Piano Trio is perfect and choreographed to a T, with delicate plinking and ominous chords placed where needed. Much credit goes to McIntyre for this inspired combination.

The piece opens with dancer Brett Perry in “The Gashlycrumb Tinies” – a grim abecedary of children who come to bad ends: “A is for Ada who fell down the stairs.” Between the partially opened curtains and to the slightly morose narration of Alan Cumming, Perry spells out the fates of these ill-starred children, and in the course of composition shows what a truly splendid dancer he is. In short grey pants and blazer, thin and wiry of limb, blond hair cut short suggesting an adolescent cowlick, he is a welter of highly acrobatic moves, curving over and under himself to draw ciphers of boyish gestures, in which grisly death is as easily portrayed as a backwards somersault.

John Speed Orr, in a silvery greyish suit that transformed him into a beach ball with ears and legs, made a bouncingly round and perversely tempered toddler, bent on horrifying three Victorian adults. In flies a huge bird – part raven, part eagle, part vulture – who shows a profound and dubious interest in this chubby baby. He swoops offstage with baby only to return as a smaller bird-in-the-distance, a recognizably rotund infant in his beak. The puppets were designed by Michael Curry and Dan Luce of the Michael Curry Design. The bird puppet was manipulated by three dancers, its 10-foot wing span supported by appropriately long thin black poles. They and the costuming by Bruce Bui precisely caught Gorey’s deadpan dark spirit.

And an homage to Freddy Mercury

The second piece on the program, “Mercury Half-Life,” was also an homage. This time to the short-lived lead singer of the English rock band Queen, Freddy Mercury. The piece was a 50-minute-long series of dances to the music of Queen, with the entire company dressed fetchingly in short white frock coat-like outfits lined in red. Perry opened the piece with a complex tap dance, which highlighted his light and precise movements. Later in the piece he was joined by Chanel DaSilva in some dazzling pas de deux. DaSilva has a completely different body type from Perry – she is small, compact and muscular. But both have formidable speed and precision in their movements, and they flowed in perfect unison through a series of quicksilver fast combinations that was gorgeous to behold.

But then the whole company is blessed with talent. 

— Jaime Robles

Photo: John Speed Orr dances the Baby in The Vinegar Tales: Four Dances of Moral Instruction by the Trey McIntyre Project at Cal Performances’ Zellerbach Auditorium. Photo: Trey McIntyre