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Trey McIntyre brings his fusion of classical and modern dance to Milwaukee

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Trey McIntyre Project

Trey McIntyre pauses on the phone, letting dead silence fill the air, when he’s asked about how he chooses the music for his choreography.

“I care about it a great deal. It’s kind of torturous,” he answers after some thought. “I’m easily maddened by it since the rhythm, and to some extent the melody, is what propels you to move.”

And “move” is exactly what this 40-year-old choreographer has done – on stage and across the country. He’s changing ideas about how audiences see and hear ballet, bridging the artistic divide between old and new in leaps and bounds – literally.

The Trey McIntyre Project is a contemporary ballet company founded in 2004. TMP is spending two weeks in residency in Milwaukee, collaborating with the Milwaukee Ballet and UW-Milwaukee. The residency culminates in a one-night-only performance March 9 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.

In just six years, TMP has reframed the way audiences look at dance by fusing classical and modern music with themes that are not only American but universal: religion, superstition, family and friendships.

The company has accomplished all this from a home base in Boise, Idaho, a place that’s not exactly considered one of the dance capitals of the world. But that perception is changing since TMP moved there in February 2008.

“In starting up the company, I asked ‘Why have a ballet company in America right now?’” given all the companies already in existence, McIntyre remembers. After reviewing offers from various cities and foundations, McIntyre moved his operations – including nine dancers and a couple of production staffers – to a city where he felt that he’d not only be welcome but also have the greatest impact on local cultural growth. Boise, at the time, was “at a tipping point,” McIntyre said – a place where he could be a “pioneer, a bit of a frontiersman,” at least, artistically.

McIntyre and his partner, John Michael Schert, 28, who is TMP’s executive director, have turned this full-time, year-round touring company into a 21st-century celebration of song and dance that mashes up classical music with contemporary tunes and combines traditional ballet with modern dance.

Milwaukee audiences will get the chance to see three of TMP’s contemporary pieces, including “Wild Sweet Love,” “Ma Maison” and “Ten Pin Episodes.”

“Wild Sweet Love” features classical composer Felix Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” along with tunes from rocker Lou Reed (“Perfect Day”), Queen (“Somebody to Love”), Roberta Flack (“Do What You Gotta Do”) and even the Zombies (“The Way I Feel Inside”). “Ma Maison” was originally commissioned by the New Orleans Ballet Association using music from the New Orleans’ Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The piece features Mardi Gras-like costumes.

“Ten Pin Episodes” is perfect for a city like Milwaukee. “I was inspired by someone calling me up who said, ‘Hey! I’ve got 200 bowling pins. Do you want them?’” McIntyre said.

He responded, “Yes.” So, audiences will hear a combination of Chopin preludes interwoven with ambient noises (think water running through pipes behind a wall and the rumbling of subway trains) while dancers move among seven bowling pins (McIntyre put the kibosh on the total 200).

TMP is working with the Nancy Einhorn Milwaukee Ballet II program, whose dancers will perform in “Wild Sweet Love.” Milwaukee Ballet artistic director Michael Pink is enthusiastic about giving his dancers the opportunity to interact with “artists that have the caliber of TMP and their team.” It’s an experience that adds to his dancers’ education, he said.

Education is a big part of the two-week residency. TMP is also working with children at the Urban Day School, and McIntyre is teaching a composition class on choreography at UWM.

As for audiences, TMP provides “a lot of room to bring yourself into the performance,” McIntyre says. “I really welcome people to complete the picture themselves and tap into the universal experience of it.”

Trey McIntyre Project performs at 7:30 p.m., March 9, at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, 929 N. Water St. For more information, call the Marcus Center box office at 414-273-7206 or visit www.MarcusCenter.org.

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