Houston Ballet Explores What it Takes to Get on Stage in Trey McIntyre's "Pretty Things"

Houston Ballet First Soloist Oliver Halkowich and Soloist Hayden Stark rehearsing Trey McIntyre's "Pretty Things."
Houston Ballet First Soloist Oliver Halkowich and Soloist Hayden Stark rehearsing Trey McIntyre's "Pretty Things." Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy of Houston Ballet

So our society generally regards narcissism as bad. But isn't a healthy dose of that intense preoccupation with and belief in oneself essential to performing artists aspiring to greatness?

That's the question dancer/choreographer Trey McIntyre set before himself when putting together "Pretty Things," part of the upcoming mixed rep program Forged in Houston about to be performed by members of the Houston Ballet — in this case: 11 dancers, all men. In keeping with his theme, the dancers will be wearing bolero jackets printed with classical paintings of faces on them, complete with gold leaf and sparkles, he says.

"I have been wrapping my head around this idea of what it takes to be a performer and some of the inherent characteristics and it's easy to come from a judgmental place about that and call it 'narcissism' this desire to be seen on stage. But I'm a spiritual person and it's hard for me to subscribe to an idea like that without a diving deeper into it."

"This piece is about opening that up and understanding it and understanding that urge and its value to the culture and to the audience," he says. His exploration of the subject included a look at the internal drivers in himself as well, he adds.

The music he chose to accompany his choreography is the late David Bowie's: "The Man Who Sold the World," "Life on Mars?" "Oh! You Pretty Things, "Little Wonder," "Ashes to Ashes," Ziggy Stardust," "Young Americans" and "Changes."

Explaining his musical selections, he says:" I think the reason is Bowie's work is, at least in these selections, so grand and oversized and operatic and preening in a certain way. The singing is like how a peacock walks. There's a relish in its own beauty and showiness that I found a very natural interaction to explore this idea with."

The other two pieces in the program are "One\end\One" by choreographer Jorma Elo and "Hush" by Christopher Bruce. Finnish-born Elo has written a price set to Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 4 in D, inspired by watching his parents, married for 65 years, working together in the garden. Bruce's says his inspiration for Hush came from the music which includes work by Bobby McFerrin, Yo-Yo Ma, and Rimsky-Korsakov. In it, he charts the celebration of life from youth to old age.

McIntyre, a former dancer  and choreographic associate with Houston Ballet, is much sought after as a choreographer. He has choreographed more than 100 works for companies including American Ballet Theatre, San Francisco Ballet and New York City Ballet. and says he began choregraphing at an early age. He has just started a YouTube channel on which he shares his adventures as an artist and creative activities. In 2008 he formed the Trey McIntyre Project, a dance company based in Boise, Idaho.

Asked why he cast only men in "Pretty Things," McIntyre says: "Those kinds of decisions come early on. I do rif a lot on the structures of classical ballet and there's some inherent showiness in how men are trained. Men have more focus on high jumps, more turns, and things that are more bravura. Just in the culture of dance, men earlier on just because there's fewer men who study dance can get more opportunities.

"Even in the culture of America men are encouraged to be showoffs whereas if women are it's usually in the service of men. So I think there's a broader cultural idea that supports that. So in this piece I think it made sense for exploring the embodiment of feeling confident that the cast be men."

Performances are scheduled for March 12-22 at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays at the Wortham Center, 500 Texas. For information, call 713-227-2787 or visit $25-$200.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
Contact: Margaret Downing