Just days after 2011's Mardi Gras celebrations quiet down, Boise-based dance company Trey McIntyre Project and the famed New Orleans Preservation Hall Jazz Band will rev the festivities back up. The two performance powerhouses will join forces in an exuberant mix of artistry, energy and visceral spirit on Saturday, March 12, at the Morrison Center.
This collaboration has been in the subconscious making for years. New Orleans is a beloved stomping ground for TMP Artistic Director Trey McIntyre, who for years enjoyed the city's easily accessible proximity to his dance alma mater, the Houston Ballet. During his years as a regular visitor to the city, McIntyre established long-lasting friendships and an affinity for the city's saturated culture.
"New Orleans is so welcoming, and the people are very similar to Boiseans in the sense that no matter where you are, you always feel like you belong," said McIntyre.
That affection led to the creation of 2008's Ma Maison and the brand-new The Sweeter End, both of which will be on the Morrison Center stage on Saturday for a matinee and an evening performance.
The idea for the two ballets first emerged in 2008 while TMP was performing at New York's Association of Performing Arts Presenters. Friends of McIntyre's from the New Orleans Ballet suggested some kind of collaboration between his company and one of the jazz groups from the Big Easy, spurring McIntyre to search out the right music for his dancers.
After spending just one night at the world-renowned Preservation Hall and hearing PHJB live, McIntyre's decision was made.
"It's almost a religious experience to just be in that historic space and hear them perform. You can actually see the grooves in the wood floor where the musicians have stood for decades," said McIntyre, a self-proclaimed dance anthropologist.
PHJB is a veritable Southern institution, which has counted some of world's most talented jazz musicians and pioneers as members, including Louis Armstrong, Buddy Bolden, Bunk Johnson and Jelly Roll Morton. Led by creative director and PHJB tuba player Benjamin Jaffe, the musical tour de force was founded in 1961 by Jaffe's parents, Allan and Sandra, who named the band after its French Quarter home.
"The first time I met Trey, he was with some of the dancers from New Orleans Ballet, and although I don't really know exactly what I expected from meeting a choreographer, I was surprised by his gentle and calm demeanor ... he was very laid-back," said Jaffe.
After that initial meeting with McIntyre, Jaffe expressed immediate interest and commitment to an artistic merger, and the two respective directors began brainstorming. McIntyre commissioned PHJB to write the music to which he would choreograph both Ma Maison and The Sweeter End. McIntyre was even present in the studio as PHJB recorded the music that he would later take back to his home studio on Fulton Street for rehearsals.
The brightly colored Ma Maison costumes, developed by acclaimed New York-based designer Jeanne Button, are accentuated by skeleton masks, adding quirky elements of androgyny, anonymity, humor and fright. Costumes for The Sweeter End were imagined and constructed by New York-based designer Andrea Lauer with denim donated by Levi's--Lauer's designs in the familiar material are at once urban and country.
Inspired by ritual, the celebration of death and the respectfully feared afterlife, both Ma Maison and The Sweeter End are fueled by themes of life's pleasures and expressions of primal joy. Both received fantastic audience response and critical praise after the sold-out Feb. 7 performance in New Orleans in the 2,300-seat Mahalia Jackson Theater. That night was the world premiere of The Sweeter End, which ended in a standing ovation and was a jubilant and fitting close to a powerful evening.
"We have been doing Ma Maison since 2008, and the piece takes on a whole new feeling when we dance it with the musicians live," said the energetic Chanel DaSilva, who has been with TMP since it was founded in 2008.
As satisfying as the partnership has been, introducing a live seven-piece jazz band into a dance performance posed a few artistic challenges.
"It just takes some time to feel each other out, getting the tempos correct and making sure no one feels artistically compromised," said McIntyre.
TMP spent a full week in New Orleans prior to the Mahalia Jackson Theater performance, rehearsing with PHJB to iron out all the little nuances that make a good performance great. Now Boise audiences will get to experience the culmination of this incredible collaboration. Jaffe said he and the rest of the band are looking forward to being here, too.
"We have actually been to Boise and Sun Valley before, and the thing that never gets old is seeing just how majestic the natural environment is," Jaffe said. "You know, New Orleans is pretty flat, and we don't get to see the mountains unless we're traveling, so Idaho is pretty cool for us."
When asked what the future holds for TMP, McIntyre wasn't ready to divulge his plans.
"I am working on a few ideas, but nothing I'm ready to talk about," he said.
McIntyre did, however, admit to an ongoing desire to integrate the latest technologies for his multi-media enhanced shows. He enjoys remaining as flexible in his work as his dancers' rubber band-like hamstrings.
Jaffe has some personal and professional expectations of his own that he hopes to express during the show.
"[I] always want the audience to leave having had a fantastic experience," he said. "This is at the core of New Orleans music; it's emotional and allows people the chance to celebrate."