Say the words “Basque dance” and most folks will come up with only the vaguest imagery.
Aren’t black berets involved? And maybe brightly colored scarves?
Well, there’s no need to go a-Googlin’ to find out — because Trey McIntyre Project offers some beguiling answers with “Arrantza,” a 2010 work inspired by Basque community in and around Boise, Idaho, where TMP is based.
“Arrantza” (the Basque word for “fishing”) is a sly amalgam of folk-dance rhythms and ballet airiness. It opens strikingly, with a sort of ambulatory, shroud-covered compound creature that refuses to disclose its identity until, with a floppy collapse and a waving of the Basque flag, it yields a group of eight dancers.
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What follows is propelled by both traditional Basque music and interviews with Basque Americans. The men are, indeed, in berets and red neckerchiefs; the women have ribbons threaded through their hair and laced around their shins. Typical folk costumes — but McIntyre treats his folk-dance sources, with their springy, intricate footwork, merely as a starting point.
Brett Perry, a high-kicking whirligig of a dancer, is paired first with Rachel Sherak (sprightly élan personified) and then Chanel DaSilva (a dynamo with a knack for launching herself backward through midair so Perry can catch her nonchalantly at shoulder level).
Fine as those duets are, they’re topped by an all-male trio. Perry, Ryan Redmond and Travis Walker are a continually evolving three-body action sculpture — one that’s very fond of syncopated rhythms. You never quite know which way their balance is going to tilt or their limbs are going to fly.
“Arrantza” concludes with a string of solos done to tambourine rhythms. Redmond, who opens and closes it, is the standout amid some fierce competition. His tricky footwork and body abandon seem to pick up on every subtle rhythmic shift the music makes.
“Pass, Away,” the evening’s other highlight, is supposedly in previews. But its series of five duets and one solo, set to songs of Richard Strauss, feels impeccably shaped and polished.
On the troupe’s website, McIntyre says he doesn’t see the duets as “focusing on a human relationship between two people working something out.” Instead, he views them as examining strands of a single personality trying to sort out its “different facets … that may be in conflict.”
That may explain the intricate, paradoxical character of these duos. Walker and Ashley Werhun, the opening pair, go from nuzzling tenderness to heroic posturing in an instant. There’s something simultaneously grand and cozy about them. Sherak and Benjamin Behrends, the second two, are even more complexly interlaced, making a game of balance and embrace, lodge and dislodge.
DaSilva and Perry, now veteran stars of TMP (there’s been quite a bit of turnover in dancers), are at their peak, serving up an alchemy of perilous body-weight shifts and elastic catches. Perry has a stunner of a solo passage as well — frenzied yet lithe, manic yet elegant, as though following two entirely different dance dictates, one to do with control, the other to do with unharnessed energy.
A male-male duet by Behrends and Walker is more standoffish initially. But its nervous taps and hiccups of rhythm soon expand to carving sweeps of limbs that lead, at last, to a real embrace. All of “Pass, Away” has a fluid, floating rigor and a finely distilled dance purity.
McIntyre likes a brisk pace, and “Pass, Away” and “Arrantza” both leave you wanting more, in a good way. But the evening’s opener, “Queen of the Goths” — a dance-trio take on Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus” — feels thinner and flimsier. Lead dancer Elizabeth Keller’s movement has a slithery, slicing authority and she’s certainly an imperious presence onstage. But the piece itself feels lacking.
Two out of three, though … that’s not bad.
Michael Upchurch: email@example.com