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Trey McIntyre Project Finds Dance Partner in Boise

December 15, 2010 at 5:13 PM EST
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Jeffrey Brown profiles how a leading dance company and a small western city are learning to move together through an unexpected partnership.
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JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight: A leading dance company and a small Western city learn to move together.

Jeffrey Brown has our story.

JEFFREY BROWN: Lunchtime at a sprawling Hewlett-Packard facility in Boise, Idaho. With some 3,000 workers, this is one of the area’s largest employers. All is routine, until a dance breaks out.

The Trey McIntyre Project is at it again, presenting what it calls a “SpUrban,” a spontaneous urban performance. For the group’s leader, one way to build a new and loyal audience is to go directly to where people live and work, and let them make a personal connection.

TREY MCINTYRE, founder, Trey McIntyre Project: We will go into an office or into a park or into a restaurant, do our dance and get out, and just for the sake of that.

JEFFREY BROWN: And the idea is to just, what, make it as in your face or a part of somebody’s life as possible?

TREY MCINTYRE: Yes. Oh, my gosh, I actually just saw that dancer two feet away from me, and that’s a real person, and I saw how hard it was, or I saw the look on their face, or I somehow connected with the energy of what they were doing.

JEFFREY BROWN: Trey McIntyre is the choreographer and founder of the company, which consists of nine dancers who tour 22 weeks of the year throughout the U.S. and abroad.

They’re all steeped in traditional ballet. But the 41-year old Wichita, Kansas-born McIntyre then adds elements from modern jazz and other styles. He says all of his work is grounded in an American sensibility.

TREY MCINTYRE: There’s something about growing up in the heartland. And, you know, I’m from the Great Plains. So, there’s some sense of like standing in the place where you are and feeling the earth around you and that sense of space, I think, that finds its way into the work.

JEFFREY BROWN: For nearly 20 years, Trey McIntyre had a successful freelance life as a choreographer who worked with many of the leading ballet companies around the world. When he decided to settle down and start his own group, he surprised a lot of people in the dance world by doing it here in Boise.

Boise is an attractive and very livable city of 200,000 people. It has an active cultural community, but it certainly is not known as an arts capital. Given his reputation, Trey McIntyre was expected to settle in, say, New York or San Francisco. But he wanted something different.

TREY MCINTYRE: For me to follow that traditional path, it wasn’t really exciting. And I liked more the idea of getting back to, why do we exist, you know, why have a dance company in America at this point, and the idea of going to a city that was less developed in terms of its dance audience, where we could really kind of get in on the ground floor, and not only be a part of developing the arts community, but developing the city as a whole.

JEFFREY BROWN: Plopping yourself down in a new town is one thing. Getting people to not only accept, but embrace you is another.

John Michael Schert, a dancer who serves as the company’s executive director, says, at first, they met some skepticism.

JOHN MICHAEL SCHERT, executive director, Trey McIntyre Project: Why did you choose Boise? And why, if you’re so great, if — because they hadn’t really seen the art at that point. They hadn’t seen the performance. They hadn’t seen the process. They hadn’t seen us performing on the streets. All they knew was of supposedly this really good choreographer and his company moving to town. So, why?

JEFFREY BROWN: Schert set out to convince and cultivate the town.

JOHN MICHAEL SCHERT: Everyone from politicians to the president of the university to the CEOs of local corporations. So, you are able to meet people at high levels of influence in the community, but I also mean everyone. And Trey is a tall guy. He’s 6’6”.

JEFFREY BROWN: He stands out.

JOHN MICHAEL SCHERT: Yes. And so walking down the street, people walk up to us and say, you know, we’re so happy you’re here.

JEFFREY BROWN: To that end, the company makes regular visits to local hospitals and schools, like the Garden City Community School. Dancers performed for the students and taught some basic skills, like how to spin without getting dizzy.

They’re trying to build and broaden their adult audience as well, for example, inviting the public to watch the process of creating a new dance.

MAN: OK. So, it’s going to go, drop and drop, open, and then nice breath, almost kind of sense of (INAUDIBLE) to go around, so there’s some momentum to the — the promenade.

MAN: So, is there a way that you could have it so it’s not quite out so straight, so it has a little bit of bend to it?

JEFFREY BROWN: They also shoot dance videos that stream online.

TREY MCINTYRE: I’m really interested in film as a medium and constantly exploring ways that dance can be communicated to people, besides being on the stage.

JEFFREY BROWN: So far, it seems to be working on all levels. The dancers talk about being treated as rock stars in town.

ILANA GOLDMAN, dancer: People recognize us, which is a new thing for me, to be recognized on the street or in a store.

JEFFREY BROWN: What do they do?

ILANA GOLDMAN: Well, they — sometimes, they will say, oh, my gosh, do you dance for Trey McIntyre Project?

JEFFREY BROWN: For their part, a number of local businesses provide the company with free or low-cost services.

Dave Krick, owner of the Red Feather restaurant, has donated food and drinks for dance events.

DAVE KRICK, restaurant owner: They have made our community more unique. I mean, they have brought something to our community. A group like that moving to Boise, I mean, they could come here just because they want to be left alone. But that’s not what they did. They moved here because they wanted to be part of a place. They wanted to be part of the community. And they are very much a part of this community.

JEFFREY BROWN: Perhaps happiest of all is Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, who admits that dance wasn’t exactly his thing before all this.

DAVE BIETER, mayor, Boise, Idaho: I would like to say that I’m well-informed on dance companies all across the country, but I’m more inclined to the linebacker part of the world.

(LAUGHTER)

JEFFREY BROWN: The mayor now proclaims himself a convert.

It didn’t hurt that Trey McIntyre created a new dance in honor of Basque culture. Boise is home to the largest Basque population outside Spain, including the mayor. Better yet, the company has quickly brought publicity and prestige. In return, the city this year gave the group $25,000, its largest ever arts grant, and named it its first official cultural ambassador.

DAVE BIETER: The more we study it and I think the more communities all around the country study it, the jobs that they create, the economic development they foster, and then the name that you get from it, especially them, with the traveling that they do, we don’t really have another like group here that — that takes our good name all around the country and even around the world.

JEFFREY BROWN: In tough budgetary times for both cities and art groups, Trey McIntyre thinks others might look to the Boise experiment.

TREY MCINTYRE: I think that this definitely is a model that could be viable in other communities and that the potential’s unlimited in that way. And I think it’s actually pretty — pretty vital to the next step of what’s going to make the arts survive in the United States.

JEFFREY BROWN: In the meantime, the rest of the country will have a chance to see the Trey McIntyre Project perform when they begin their next national tour in January.

GWEN IFILL: And, just today, the Trey McIntyre project’s role as cultural ambassador expanded, as the State Department named it one of four American dance companies that will represent the country in a 2012 world tour.