Trey's Touch

Touched, 24-year-old Houston choreographer Trey McIntyre's newest work for the Houston Ballet, is a frenzied celebration of things that go bump in the dark, then see the light.

Two of the piece's four movements are lit only by flashlights held in the hands of the barefoot dancers, who must know ex-actly where the punctuation falls in difficult jazz rhythms to click their personal spotlights on and off -- all while they're leaping and diving and dancing like mad. Faces float out of nowhere; feet scamper through pools of isolated light. Then the lights come up and McIntyre's frenetic, jazzy choreography gets really relentless.

The title of the work refers to physical touch, and the piece pursues that notion by following a central character as he grows out of his inhibitions. McIntyre says he used flashlights to delineate boundaries. "You've got this big canvas onstage of darkness; there's this space that sort of divides [the dancers] and makes a safety zone," he explains. "When the lights come on, it's risky; we're all out in the open, having to explore those boundaries together."

McIntyre came upon the music his work's set to one day in Kansas. He was at home, going through his dad's old jazz albums, and ran across one by Dave Brubeck. His father encouraged him to use it, saying he should "use the kind of music people like listening to, not the kind they have to pretend to like."

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The inspiration for the flashlight gimmick came out of the barely audible cymbal brushes McIntyre heard while listening to "Three To Get Ready." "There's this one 'ping' in the music that kept getting repeated. I said, 'That sounds just like a spotlight, a real directed, small one,'" he says. "But there's no way I'm going to be able to get this focused so [the dancers'] faces are in the right place at the right time. So I thought, what if I just had them hold something?"

McIntyre may be young, but he ain't easy. His punchy, modern choreographic vocabulary includes spectacular acrobatics, among them one combination in which dancers leap viciously from all sides of the stage into the arms of the central character, repeatedly knocking him flat to the floor. Ouch. Tall as a pro basketball player, McIntyre dances the part of the flattened center himself. (An alternate cast features company principal Mark Arvin.) "Now I know what it's like," the choreographer admits. "I passed out, ready to throw up, after the first couple of run-throughs."

Touched is McIntyre's third work for the Houston Ballet. Officially the company's choreographic apprentice, he also dances as a member of the corps and has made forays into theater. Last fall, he choreographed the Alley Theatre's production of Danc-ing at Lughnasa and appeared in an avant-garde vaudeville show at DiverseWorks. "The hardest thing I've ever done," he says.

McIntyre has begun to step into the national spotlight: next month he puts the finishing touches on another musically challenging piece set to Bela Bartok's Fourth String Quartet that was commissioned by the New York City Ballet's Diamond Project for new choreography -- a very plum assignment.

Part of the Houston Ballet's Cullen Contemporary Series, Touched will appear April 2-10 with the Houston premiere of Musings, by Canadian choreographer James Kudelka, and a reprise of Paul Taylor's popular Company

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