At Trey McIntyre Project's new headquarters off Warm Springs Avenue, dancers linger in various states of dress. Some slink by in costumes--triangle tops and elegantly draped, pink skirts--while others shed sweat pants and leg warmers.
Up close, you can see all of their humanity--a swath of reddened skin encircles one dancer's waist, another lets out punctuated huffs as he lands on the mat, sweat forming a sharp V down his chest. They practice their moves in a jumble of organized chaos until the music fires up and Jessye Norman's operatic soprano fills the room like a thick smoke. Suddenly, the show is in full swing, and McIntyre stands on the sidelines, making mental notes.
The first thing that might strike audiences about McIntyre's new world premiere piece, "Pass, Away"--which previews at the Morrison Center Saturday, Feb. 16, along with "Queen of the Goths" and "Arrantza"--is how different it is from his other recent work. First, the dance is set to music by classical composer Richard Strauss, not contemporary rock. Second, it feels unabashedly exuberant. But don't let that fool you. "Pass, Away" is ultimately about death.
"I really just began from a personal spot that I'm in right now, thinking about where I am on the planet and really thinking about the big changes that are happening in my own life. ... I'm in my 40s and I'm really thinking about the second half of my life, and it's an excellent opportunity to shed things that I don't want anymore," explained McIntyre. "So I was really thinking about that as a metaphor for death and all the different ways that death shows up in our lives all the time."
McIntyre held discussions with his dancers about their experiences with death to channel their emotions on the topic.
"Talking with young people, the dancers, they have a really different perspective on death than somebody who's closer to it. For a really long time, I've seen it as a valuable part of our existence," said McIntyre. "If we didn't have the finality of life, if we didn't know we were going to die someday, there would be no reason to get up off the couch, because if you had infinite time, what compels you to do anything?"
Back in the rehearsal space, Travis Walker and Ashley Werhun's heads are pressed together in a kiss; their arms extend like rays of sunshine. Ben Behrends and Rachel Sherak paw at each other's faces while sitting cross-legged on the floor. Brett Perry grasps Chanel DaSilva tightly and helps guide her timidly forward. The delicate, love-laced movements all speak to the beauty of contemporary dance. A piece contemplating death can transport some viewers to a love-filled, happy place.
"I'm usually hesitant to even talk about content in a piece because I'm not looking for an audience member to get the code; dance is not about that," said McIntyre. "All that matters is that I'm coming for some place that's specific and real and honest for me. The audience member, they can read anything they want to in the work."
That open-ended-ness can be difficult to digest, particularly for dance novices.
"It's very important that we take the responsibility for creating the context for what we do and not expect audiences to go and see dance because it's good for them and you should support the arts, and isn't that great?" said McIntyre.
One way TMP is helping to create context is with its new Out of the Classroom program, which will invite fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students from the Boise School District and Meridian's Joint School District No. 2 to watch a TMP performance for free at the Morrison Center Friday, Feb. 15. The company also provides teachers with educational materials to engage students about the show beforehand. The program, which debuted in the fall of 2012, has been so wildly popular that 2,000 kids are on a waiting list to attend.
"We recognize that for a lot of these students, they have never seen dance before. A lot of them have never been in a theater before, so we wanted to provide tools to classroom teachers to be able to explain to them what they were going to see and to kind of talk them through the material in a way that doesn't take a lot of time," said Kristin Aune, senior engagement manager for programs.
TMP's educational pamphlet for its Spring Show includes a spotlight on the Basque dance "Arrantza." The pamphlet gives a brief overview of Basque history and includes activities to connect kids with the performance. It also offers tips on how to conduct oneself properly--"applaud when you like something or follow the lead of others in the audience"--along with follow-up questions.
"TMP is a really natural company to do this because Trey's choreography, his music choices, his quality of movement, the dancers themselves are so accessible," said Aune. "It's not classical ballet, which I think is beautiful to watch but, in some ways for the modern kid, is a little far removed from what's relevant to them."
"It's not a 'take your medicine,' kind of 'good for you' thing," McIntyre added. "But what are the ways of really engaging kids in dance so that when they grow up, it's one of the things they'll consider as part of living on this planet?"
But TMP's engagement efforts aren't confined to schoolchildren.
"I think [for] adults, there's a big fear with dance that they don't want to go in and feel stupid. They don't want to feel like there's something, another culture, that people get that I don't," said McIntyre. "Our education that we're trying to bring to the community is: the person that you are that you bring to the theater is the perfect person to be seeing this; whatever it is that your perception is, it's the right one and I want to hear about it."