The Trey McIntyre Project opened at Jacob's Pillow last night and, in spite of the extreme heat, blew the roof off the Ted Shawn Theatre. A couple of weeks back I invoked a series of superlatives to illustrate my response to Tero Saarinen and the Boston Camerata. Last week, Eva Yerbabuena and her company took me (and all the others present) in a whole other direction. Last night, McIntyre and his astounding company just made everyone giddy with delight. In fact, as I made my way to the parking lot afterward, a very elderly couple were finding their way and stopped several passersby to tell them that "this was the best thing they'd seen at the Pillow in years and years". While it's certain that tastes vary and some may rate other evenings higher than this, there is no doubt that McIntyre sent people off into the Berkshires night with joy and wonder. Whatever effect the heat may have had, the dance company trumped the elements.
Like a Samba, the opening dance, is a series of variations on balletic imposition on the Latin dance form. Recorded music by Astrid Gilberto was both familiar and engaging, titillating and effervescent. The five dancers hurled themselves at the choreography, and often at each other as they did so, and the audience was shouting cheers at the end of the twenty minute composition. The opening and the closing, perfectly complemented by Michael Mazzola's lighting design, made some of the interior sections less compelling and more generic than perhaps they should be, but the quintet moved powerfully through their pairings and solos without losing their momentum or their connection to each other.
Just, set to the music of Henry Cowell ("Set of Five For Violin, Piano and Percussion"), is more abstract and less obviously showy than the first piece. Two male and two female dancers share the stage and arrange and re-arrange their relationships. Gymnastic in complexity, where the Samba section was more fluid and balletic, the highlight here was an exquisite range of lifts done with frenetic speed, all of which the dancers executed with an ease that startled and thrilled the audience. As with the first piece, McIntyre's focus on pace and exacting precision added to the theatrical pleasure of the dance.
Go Out, in its east coast premiere here at the Pillow, makes up the evening's second half. The entire company works through a series of eleven musical scenes -- music by an assorted list of artists -- steeped in folk music that resists lightheartedness without embracing despair. A woman in a stunning red dress haunts the dance, appearing and disappearing and, finally, entering the dance to impose her inevitable and unavoidable power. The blend of folk-inspired choreography, which always avoids both that label and easy recognition, demands the dancers' unqualified endorsement of dance-as-life. The music is as compelling as the choreographer's passion and the dancers' embrace of both. Lifts, which in Just startled us, here positively dazzle. A male dancer lifts his female partner with a slightly bent elbow, while another dancer spins his partner through the air as she slides over his back. And none of this is anything less than organic. McIntyre is happily free of any look-at-me in his staging, in his combinations and, most of all, in his vision.
If you've read my earlier reviews of Borrowed Light or Yerbabuena, you might -- like I -- begin to think that I'm stretching too far to find vocabulary that fairly describes the work I've been fortunate to have seen this season. But please, read the commentary and accept that there are times when so much good work can happen in the same place week after week. Jacob's Pillow is having a grand season. Next year, their 75th anniversary, holds great promise for a celebration of extraordinary scale.