With over 100 works under his belt, it’s clear that renowned choreographer Trey McIntyre’s artistic endeavors aren’t slowing down anytime soon. When Trey McIntyre first stepped into the Smuin studios to create Oh Inverted World in 2010, his time was mostly devoted to his eponymous company, Trey McIntyre Project, and the intermittent choreographic commission. Since his company’s disbandment in 2014, McIntyre spends his days in Austin, Texas and, when not creating dances, likes to busy himself exploring other art forms. An avid writer and photographer, McIntyre posts frequently on his personal blog and plans to release two books on photography. A recent conversation, touching on subjects as varied as the power of mind-altering substances to the subtleties of Daoist principles, displayed McIntyre’s thoughtful embodiment of his work as an artist.
This season, McIntyre returns to Smuin to create a new work celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love. McIntyre finds distinct parallels between current events and those of the 1960s, with individuals “very boldly shaking things up from what the paradigm had been before.” McIntyre’s work, titled Be Here Now, after the Ram Dass book on spirituality, includes music by Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, the Mamas and the Papas, the Hollies, Sly and the Family Stone. He draws inspiration from various individuals who experienced the era first hand. The Summer of Love is a “very open and potential-filled concept,” McIntyre said, “but in some ways it was very challenging. There is no one definitive idea. Anyone who was there has their own opinion and feeling about what it was.”
Rather than creating a nostalgic portrait of the era, McIntyre chose to bring his own perspective to the themes of the time. The choreographer’s own journey to self-discovery in his youth often brought him to places of experimentation that echoed those experienced during the Summer of Love. Psychedelic drug use was prevalent in the late 1960s in San Francisco, and was often seen as a “shortcut to enlightenment,” a way to expand one’s mind and explore new levels of spirituality and self-awareness. In Be Here Now, he explores “using LSD, in a sense as a metaphor, for the discovery of who one is and what life is all about,” McIntyre reveals. “I think [that discovery] is a universal part of everyone’s journey in life.”
Despite his international success, McIntyre stresses that creating new dances comes with its own set of challenges. Moments of uncertainty, frustration, and the occasional surprise contribute to what he dubs “creative angst.” “In the end,” McIntyre says, “the point is to keep trusting the process, to keep being present in it, and being okay with whatever comes out of it.” Much of his artistry hinges on this very authentic experience—finding the value in these moments and exploring areas outside the usual paradigms of ballet.
On working with Smuin, McIntyre earnestly states, “the [artistic] presence of the dancers in this company is about all I can ask for.” While McIntyre’s process of creating choreography is not necessarily collaborative, each dancer contributes in a unique way. Instead of looking to his dancers for specific movements or steps, McIntyre’s work is contingent on “responding to the energy of the dancer in the room; who they are as a person.” The resulting movement is often “a very personal representation of that person” in that “even though the ideas didn’t necessarily come from that dancer, the spirit with which the movement evolves came from them.”
Finding beauty in authenticity is something McIntyre speaks passionately about. “I would equate it to a painter planning a brush stroke and then [painting],” McIntyre notes. “I think it’s the same with making choreography. It’s about that authentic gesture,” capturing “whatever energetically is happening at that moment.” It’s the authenticity of these unique moments makes the difficult moments of creating something new so valuable.
McIntyre counts his audience as the final piece of the puzzle. He has no agenda as to what the audience should understand as they are watching his dances unfold. And McIntyre certainly isn’t one to dole out any definitive answers—creating and witnessing new works is an “act of exploration,” as he terms it. “That’s the completion of performative artwork,” McIntyre emphasizes. “The audience is the final part of that equation and makes it what it is by their own experience and perception.” In the end, it is up to each person to create meaning from the context of his dances through the “lens of their own life.” That this relatability can be found within the work he produces, the choreographer says simply, “I think that’s really beautiful.”
Trey McIntyre’s Be Here Now premieres at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts May 5, and continues with performances throughout the Bay Area. See Smuin’s dancers in this internationally renowned choreographer’s work in Dance Series 02! Learn more here.