Trey McIntyre of The Trey McIntyre Project. Photo: Basil Childers

Trey McIntyre is bringing his Boise-based dance company to Cal Performances’ Zellerbach Hall on November 18th and, along with it, a paradox.

The Trey McIntyre Project (TMP) began as a pick-up company in 2004. During summer months, the towering dance maker (at 6’6” tall, he’s hard to miss,) and his treasure trove of talented professionals, bounced across the country to roaring success and rave reviews. Already one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch”, McIntyre spent the rest of the season earning accolades and commissions to choreograph for Oregon Ballet Theatre, Ballet Memphis, Washington Ballet, and the Bay Area’s Smuin Ballet, Diablo Ballet and Sacramento Ballet. His was a sweet gig.

Then, in 2008, TMP stunned the dance world and turned expert opinions upside down by taking his company full time and selecting Boise, Idaho as home base. Therein lay the paradox: launch a full-time dance company amid an economic depression and “bury” it in a lovely location, sure, but not one considered to be an arts mecca.

“An isolated city with a population of 211,000 and sleepy streets, Boise feels more Small Town U.S.A. than bustling urban center. The shock might have sent Balanchine running for the hills,” wrote Claudia La Rocco, in a September 12, 2008 article in The New York Times.

“You’re going to become a non-thing in the dance world,” McIntyre recalls people telling him.

“I learn more about the why of choosing Boise all the time,” he says today, during a phone interview in early November. “San Francisco and New York were high on my list for the thriving dance communities and people to bounce ideas off of. But for me, it was answering the question: why have a dance company in America today? It’s not enough to say, ‘To make the best possible work.’”

McIntyre’s instincts — honed to perfection by listening to the pulse of the company’s near-worshipful fan base — told him that dance should be a lot more like football than like church.

Instead of thrusting a dance company on an already crowded landscape, or forcing art down the throats of a community like unwanted medicine or unwelcome dogma, he posed a second question.

“Could we become engaging to the extent that a championship football team is? People cringe when I say this, but it’s American. Creating something that isn’t there: innovating, being pioneers.”

The company seeks engagement over marketing. Interactive kiosks in theater lobbies present stop-motion films about the dancers. SpUrbans (Spontaneous Urban Performances) — sophisticated, urban renditions of a flashmob performed by the dancers–  brings dance to the people. Hospital visits — day long affairs — bring celebration to those who are suffering.

Boise, by most accounts, has fallen in love. McIntyre describes the hometown audience as highly educated, receptive, and eager to innovate.

“I’ve been able to present the most challenging work I’ve ever created,” he says, with more gratitude than grandiosity.

TMP’s Berkeley performance features two Bay Area premieres, Gravity Heroes (2011) and The Sweeter End (2011), along with In Dreams (2007), a ballet originally created for Memphis Ballet and set to music by singer-songwriter Roy Orbison.

For Gravity Heroes, McIntyre took a survey of his life, listened to a radio program about people in the late 1800s going over waterfalls and came to a conclusion that later surprised him.

“I was thinking about making drastic changes, without an outside force causing it.  It’s sacred to be in the familiar, we rarely make a change voluntarily. I thought going over a falls in a barrel was a beautiful metaphor for making a choice to change,” he explains.

After completing the work, he discovered a profoundly personal lesson amid the arabesques and pirouettes.

“I had been on a solitary, authoritarian path. I began understanding the inter-connectedness of all people. If we envision the air as supple, open, and vulnerable, it opens up all kinds of possibilities.”

A fascination with the people of New Orleans and an opportunity to collaborate with Preservation Hall Jazz Band led McIntyre to The Sweeter End. Death and beauty, the dance’s thematic bedrocks, are intertwined in New Orleans, says McIntyre.

“The people live to their fullest and there’s an abandon that isn’t self-serving. It’s a welcoming, sharing energy.”

In one of the many podcasts available on the company’s website, McIntyre suggests there is an “ecstatic component to leaving this life” and lays himself bare to see what comes out of exploring the darkness.

Concluding the program, In Dreams profiles people passing through heartbreak with humanity and honesty that endures, despite the sadness. The dancers move as if bearing tremendous weight on their shoulders; deeply entrenched in the earth until breaking free in expansive movements that suggest fortitude.

At a time in history when cynicism and disappointment have crested and many Americans are retreating to or searching for a sense of home, McIntyre has found an ironic solution. By finding their place in a small city in Idaho, TMP has been discovered by the world.

A Lobby Talk on the Zellerbach Hall mezzanine will be held on Friday, November 18 at 5:00 p.m. with Trey McIntyre and dance specialist Kathryn Roszack.  This event is free and open to the public. Tickets to attend the concert must be purchased.

Lou Fancher is a writer and journalist who lives in the Bay Area.

To find out about more events in Berkeley and nearby, bookmark Berkeleyside’s Events Calendar. We also encourage you to submit your own events.