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Trey McIntyre Project

'The Sun Road'

by Carmel Morgan

August 19, 2009 -- Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, Filene Center, Vienna, Virginia

“The Sun Road,” a new work by Trey McIntyre that was created during a residency at White Oak Plantation, premiered on August 19, 2009, at Wolf Trap as part of an original commissioned series called “Face of America,” which honors America’s National Parks.  This year’s honoree was Glacier National Park in Montana.  The performance amounted to a lifetime achievement award ceremony, but for a park, not a person.  By and large the feeling was one of reverence for a beloved place and foreboding about its precarious future.

August in the DC area is hot and humid, and the night of McIntyre’s world premiere was no exception.  Prior to the performance, the air was aflutter with programs doubling as fans.  Upon viewing the gorgeous high definition film footage of Glacier National Park’s ice-capped mountains on the outdoor theater’s huge screens, one definitely wished to escape the heat at Glacier.

The program featured several performers in addition to the Trey McIntyre Project: Jack Gladstone and Rob Quist, two singers with deep connections to Glacier; composer Philip Aaberg, who released the 2002 Grammy nominated solo album “Live from Montana”; and Victor and April Charlo, a Native American poet and his daughter from the Flathead Reservation in Dixon, Montana.  A Native American blessing presented by Gladstone, who is from the Blackfeet Indian Nation, opened the program, while Trey McIntyre’s “The Sun Road” closed the evening.

McIntyre incorporated stunning on-site film footage of his dancers into the live performance of “The Sun Road.”  Scenes of the dancers at Glacier moving amidst the vast expanse of the park were projected on a large screen above and behind the dancers’ heads.  While dancers in formal attire interacted with nature on screen, they simultaneously moved on stage.  With clever lighting changes by Michael Mazzola and quick drops and rolls on the floor, four males, wearing simple black costumes, initially appeared and disappeared from view as if emerging and fading in a mist.

Paul Simon, Young Grey Horse, and Nina Simone, an eclectic mix, provided the music for “The Sun Road.”  To the tune of Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” Dylan G-Bowley, Jason Hartley, Brett Perry, and John Michael Schert performed a series of crisp, tight solos.  On the big screen, men in wide red cummerbunds crawled and climbed atop each other among trees.  While the film footage brought to mind a bunch of playful groomsmen lost in the woods after a night of debauchery, the men on stage, in their solos, physically struggled with solitude.  Individually, they kicked and pulled with force, keeping a strong rhythm and strut. With Native American drumming and chanting the dancing on screen and stage became more intense.

Also on the big screen was the lovely Chanel DaSilva, wearing a red, glittery tulle ball gown.  The image of DaSilva in bright red on a snowy hilltop eclipsed the live dancing in its power and beauty.  She bent slowly forward, her arms angled almost like the arms of a runner, but with her fingers gently spread so that they brought to mind feathers.  The camera pulled back gradually, capturing both the grandeur of Glacier National Park and the exquisiteness of DaSilva’s form.  Other onscreen images, too, provided stiff competition for the live dancing: soft pale curves of a naked body in melting snow, long lengths of red fabric in the wind shooting out and about the dancers’ bodies like streams of blood, and dancers leaning far forward with their black suit jackets flipped up over their heads and stretched behind them like billowing sails.

Following this section of joint screen and stage dance was a quiet duet between John Michael Schert and Ilana Goldman that was unaccompanied by any video.  Goldman stood very still at the center of the stage, arms behind her back, wearing a huge dark bell-shaped skirt designed by Sandra Woodall.  Schert approached Goldman, eventually pushing himself so firmly into her side that her skirt dramatically crunched, completely changing the skirt’s shape.  The formerly round skirt suddenly resembled a half-eaten apple.  Yet Goldman simply watched, showing little reaction.  Schert then bent her skirt upward and took it in his arms.  Goldman, freed from the skirt, her long legs bared, walked backward, and the lights dimmed.  No doubt McIntyre was making some sort of statement about how humans change nature.

The film footage of the dancers at Glacier was particularly gripping.  Yet, overall, “The Sun Road” seemed unfinished, its message a bit muddled.  Sometimes the alternating of video and live dancing really worked well, and sometimes it was a bit chaotic.  Most confusing, perhaps was the role of the two women.  DaSilva, so regal in the video, never appeared on stage, and Goldman stood on stage and barely moved.  The final section, simple and dramatic, seemed too abrupt an ending.  I was frankly surprised that the dancers did not come back on stage.  I wanted to see more!

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