Trey McIntyre’s passionate and tumultuous Blue Until June is not new to American stages. Initially created for The Washington Ballet (2000) and set to the crooning vocals of Etta James, McIntyre’s work has made its debut both in and out of the country, most notably touring Fidel Castro’s Cuba before landing in the San Francisco Bay Area with Smuin. Following Be Here Now, McIntyre’s recent world premiere for the Company, Blue Until June is the third work by the choreographer that Smuin has presented. “This is a particularly open and optimistic [company],” McIntyre said in an interview with Smuin. “It feels like an old Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney movie; there’s this old American pluckiness to this company that’s really lovely to work with.”
Though McIntyre’s idiosyncratic movement is ever-present in his works, each ballet showcases his style in a new light. “This piece is very much a combination of very athletic, classical technique but, breaking out of that, stretching it to its limits,” McIntyre shared. With each work he continues to “re-examine [his] own classical inheritance and how to use that language effectively.” Breaking the boundaries of classical ballet has given his work a very “human,” honest quality. There’s a myriad of emotions in Blue Until June—the audience gets the sense that the dancers have seen it all as they trudge from partner to partner, hands fisted with tension or hanging limp with implied exhaustion. McIntyre describes the ballet’s motivation as exploring “idealism and heartache,” both of which are very much embodied in the work of Etta James. “When I made the piece, I was really thinking about American ideas about romantic love and what that meant, and really how much of that is formed by music,” the choreographer explained. “There’s this really unrealistic fantasy about what love is supposed to be. I think a lot of us learn that from music.” The hyper-romanticism of James’ work is distinctly present in the symphony of songs chosen for the work. Classics songs like “I Would Rather Go Blind,” “Seven Day Fool,” and “Fool That I Am” all hint at unrestrained, self-sacrificing romantic relationships. “I really wanted to look at the piece and ask what that dynamic means to the human experience,” McIntyre said. “What does it mean to really go after the pain of love and immerse oneself in something that’s unattainable?”
Each of the nine dynamic sections comprising Blue Until June presents a distinct vignette for the dancers to tackle. The piece, like James’ vocals, is rife with intense emotion from the moment the dancers emerge from the onstage “landscape.” Each story unfolds with a different perspective—from an unyielding and heavy-hearted procession to a quiet, lovelorn duet between two men. Given the unique complexity of McIntyre’s movement, “there has to be a quiet confidence that comes from knowing what you’re doing” for dancers to execute his choreography efficiently. “It’s being methodical, it’s being meticulous, it’s decision-making that then allows them, later on, to have the freedom to dance as fully as it needs to be done,” he elaborated. “Because, with a fight, some of those duets are too hard to get into. It’s impossible.”
McIntyre worked with local designer Sandra Woodall on the set and costumes, and, rather than invoke James’ 1960s, they chose to emphasize modern, everyday life. “I like using the clothes that people wear in pieces because of their reference to humanity and the way that we interact day to day. Those things interest me, the normal human interactions,” he explained. There’s something different about these costumes, however. In juxtaposition to the dancers’ clean-cut clothing, perceptive audience members will quickly see that they are all caked with a layer of greying mud onstage. “I had this idea that the dancers were sort of buried in the dried earth and sort of soaking in that feeling of heartache,” McIntyre explained. In the midst of their obsession with heartache, “they kind of crawl their way out of the earth to play out their dramas in this [onstage] arena.”
Depending on how individual audience members perceive it, Blue Until June does indeed have the “happy ending” that its subjects desperately crave. Just as the audience begins to despair in what feels like an exploration of doomed romance, James’ iconic “At Last” closes the work with a ray of hope. “As these people are digging through the sludge and the mud, there’s a kind of a redemptive ending where they get to play out that fantasy,” McIntyre concluded. Two dancers, clean and wearing pristine white, meet in a moment of pure romance, finding love free from jaded experience as the memories of past indiscretions quietly fade into the background.