Arts & Culture » Visual Art

Math Movement

TMP's "9+1" exhibit adds up

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In a mirror-less, sunlight-flooded dance studio with the dampness of fresh sweat clinging to the air, Trey McIntyre scoots a chair next to a large window and folds one long leg over the other. The Trey McIntyre Project's nine dancers have just ended their daily practice, and if any seem worn out, it has less to do with grande-plies than it does with grueling improv games. To keep his ballet dancers' minds as flexible as their bodies, McIntyre engages them in creative mental exercises, like improv acting. This all-encompassing artistic approach is what has led the Boise community to so eagerly embrace these talented transplants after only one short year in town.

"It's part of the criteria of being a dancer with the company that you have a curious and exploratory spirit," says McIntyre. "That you want to not just come to work and do your job, 'OK, I did 10 pirouettes.' It's about growing as an artist and as a person. Any new experience, they eat it up."

Recently, McIntyre has helped orchestrate an exciting new experience for both his dancers and members of the Boise arts community--a visual art show titled "9+1." Opening at the J Crist Gallery on Wednesday, May 27, "9+1" is a discipline-spanning creative getting-to-know-you group art show. For the project, McIntyre invited 12 local artists and artistic teams--painters, photographers, glass workers, bartenders, musicians--to create portraits of him and each of his nine dancers. The show is as much an attempt to familiarize Boise's creative community with the company as it is a way to unite the often disparate worlds of performance and visual art.

"Really, the only parameter was portraits, and that can be taken in any way the artists like," says McIntyre. "Pretty much all of the artists then came and watched rehearsal. I feel like that was the turning point for everyone."

After their initial studio observations, each of the artists set off on different paths to glean more information about the individual dancers. Some took photographs or passed out quirky questionnaires while others had the dancers sit down for more traditional portrait sessions. Local painter Molly Hill placed the creative process back into the hands of the dancers. [Disclosure: Hill is the mother of BW A&E editor Amy Atkins.] Armed with watercolor palettes, Hill asked each of the dancers to paint their own self-portrait.

"Originally I was going to take [the self-portraits] and collage them into the paintings I made," explains Hill. "But I couldn't adulterate them. They were too precious to me. Instead, I just used them as a reference. I took from them something and made a painting."

While Hill's acrylic paintings are in line with her signature style--fantastical pictorial narratives brimming with color and whimsy--at times, they edge ever so slightly toward realism with subtle shadows defining the dancers' muscular curves. In each of her 10 paintings, the dancers wear Blossom-era crazy hats--Lia Cirio has on a Strawberry Shortcake polka dot number, while Annali Rose has a rainbow parrot fastened to her small head with a red ribbon.

"Being invited to go and watch a rehearsal where you're two feet away from the dancer, you see them in a much more intimate way than in a performance," says Hill. "So, I did a little more accentuating--legs, musculature, that kind of thing. That was a little different for me because ... I haven't worked from life in a long, long time."

Another artist whose work was profoundly affected by the rehearsal process was glass worker Karen Bubb. Camera in tow, Bubb photographed the dancers both in the studio and during the company's New Orleans-inspired performance of "Ma Maison" this past February. She incorporated the resulting images, some with the dancers clad in Dia de Los Muertos-style skeleton costumes, in stained glass pieces, prints and jewelry.

"Repetition is really key," says Bubb. "They do the same thing over and over and over with all these small variations. I've tried to incorporate that into my work as well, where if I'm doing print-making, I'm repeating the same images over and over, and it's trying to pick up almost that same feel--every one is different even though it's the same image."

Overall, the process of interpreting a performance medium in a visual form has been an eye-opening challenge for the artists involved in the project. Though she contracts professionally with TMP doing graphic design, Jennifer Wood found that the "9+1" project pushed her to dig deeper to discern the dancers' nuanced personalities. Wood opted to make interpretive booklets, incorporating solid two-dimensional busts with text taken from questionnaires she'd passed out and lyrics by musicians like M. Ward and Joanna Newsom. Like the company's creative dynamic, each of Wood's limited-edition booklets is unique, yet unified by an overarching theme.

"I think their energy is about their individuality, and it's really so strong when they all come together," says Wood. "It made me realize, once again, how amazing it is that all of these people from so many different parts of the country and parts of the world sort of have landed here. I feel like they are sort of hovering over Boise in this weird way. The energy is so thick and raw."

In another unique twist, Modern Hotel bartender Michael Bowers decided to take that same energy and pour it into a cocktail shaker. Instead of attempting to do portraits of the dancers in drink form, Bowers opted to make cocktails that represent their unique boozy tastes.

"My first thought was to try to do something representative ... but then I realized that any of these associations that I have are completely personal and won't really convey anything to anyone," says Bowers. "I decided then that what I should really do is just create cocktails that are good, cocktails that are elevating."

Bowers will create two new cocktails each month named after the company's individual dancers. The first two drinks are inspired by John Michael Schert and Virginia Pilgrim and can be purchased at the Modern through the month of June. TMP will also sell cocktail punch cards for $75, which gets you 11 drinks with half of the proceeds going to support TMP.

In fact, half of the proceeds from all of the artwork sold at "9+1"—from Hal Eastman's stunning Mapplethorpe-esque photographic prints to Hillfolk Noir's folksy tribute songs packaged in musical "magazines"—will go to support the company. And though it might seem oddly philanthropic for one highly varied group of artists to create and donate their work to another, McIntyre explains that the project has exposed both artists and dancers to new creative worlds. Leaning forward in his small chair, cool air filling the now-still dance studio, McIntyre explains that he, as much as anyone, has been inspired by the experience.

"I've gotten to talk to visual artists and ... I learn a lot from that conversation. Visual artists talk more of my language than a dancer would," says McIntyre. "Truly, painting or making choreography comes down to ideas ... I don't care about making dance that doesn't exist for a reason, and visual artists really live in that world."

Wednesday, May 27, 5:30-7:30 p.m., FREE, Special brunch $10. Saturday, May 30, 10 a.m.-Noon. J Crist Gallery, 223 S. 17th St. For more information, call TMP at 208-577-5371.