Trey McIntyre harnesses the musical legacy of Queen into a new ballet

By Dana Oland
© 2013 Idaho Statesman
There’s always been a rock-concert quality to a Trey McIntyre Project show, but the matinee performance of TMP’s fall concert Saturday took that to a new level.
Rock concert? More than 1,400 people did the stomp-stomp-clap of Queen’s iconic sports anthem “We Will Rock You” on the Morrison Center floor, while the dance company dazzled on stage. The extended curtain call was a literal scream fest.
(At press time, the evening show had fewer than 250 tickets left.)
McIntyre’s 50-minute “Mercury Half-life” comprised the second half of the program that is beautifully balanced by the opening “Pass, Away” to the music of Richard Strauss.
The two pieces offer the full spectrum of what this company has to offer both in performance quality and musical tone.
“Pass, Away,” which premiered last season, is an exploration of death and transformation; “Mercury” is an exaltation of life.
Who comes out on top in all of this are the dancers who each get their moments.
“Pass, Away” is a series of duets and solos, all of which are lovely and deeply moving — especially Ben Behrends and Rachel Sherak. Behrends is a dancer of amazing fluid suppleness.  In one moment, they’re on the floor facing one another under an intense light. Sherak pitches forward on her knees, and arches back as Behrends stops her fall and pushes her back.
“Mercury Half-life” is set to a wildly diverse selection of the music of Queen, a band that produced highly theatrical rock songs in the 1970s and ’80s, including “Another One Bites The Dust,” “Killer Queen” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
The simple set of six light poles that change color evokes the backdrop of a mid-1970s music show. Melissa Schlachtmeyer’s white and red costumes reference athletic-uniform chic and subtle 18th-century dress that made a comeback in the 1960s and ’70s. Restricting the palette to white and red gives it a crisp modern edge.
While much of Queen’s songbook is tinged with kitsch, and has become cliched over time due to ubiquity, McIntyre’s take on the music — from Brett Perry’s blistering tap routine to “Bring Back Leroy Brown” that opens the show to the “We Will Rock You” finale — freshens it in way that is cathartic and ultimately satisfying.
By the way, this isn’t the first rock-’n’-roll ballet. In 1993, Prince composed “Billboards” for the Joffrey Ballet. The piece shook up the ballet world at the time. A few years later, San Francisco Ballet created a Beatles ballet. And McIntyre often uses popular music to great advantage in his work, but again this takes it up a notch. Could these sports rockers become arts anthems?
On top of his signature, ballet-based contemporary movement, McIntyre’s choreography here is filled with squiggles, rock-’n’-roll thrashes, gravity-defying dives and energetic divergence as he uses interesting casting to create unexpected contrasts within the piece. He puts Travis Walker, John Speed Orr and Ryan Redmond in a witty, masculine take on “Killer Queen,” and Chanel DaSilva and Ashley Werhun show off female power in “We are the Champions.” Just enough gender play to make Freddie Mercury smile.
A new addition to the company, Orr made his Boise debut with the company here with a wonderfully layered solo to “Prophet’s Song.”
Redmond also rocked in his breakout solo in “Another One Bites the Dust,” showing himself a dancer of great athletic ability and dynamic performance.
Perry, who performed show-stopping solos in both pieces, came off as the star of the night, receiving cheers during his routine. Perry is both an excellent classical technician and emotionally vibrant performer. He brought the right amount of pizzazz to the stage, along with his oftentimes partner, the powerhouse DaSilva.
Behrends again stood out with his solo in “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” that leads to a fizzy and fun duet with DaSilva.
With “Mercury Half-life,” McIntyre taps into our love affair with popular music that become the soundtrack of life, and with it he’s capturing a whole new audience for his brand of dance. Maybe those hockey fans will be next.
Dana Oland: 377-6442,
Twitter: @IDS_DanaOland
Posted in ArtsBeat