Arts Desk

The Power of Movement, This Weekend at Harman Hall

This weekend, the Trey McIntyre Project is performing at Harman Hall, courtesy of the Washington Performing Arts Society, and I’d planned on writing a long post about the company’s movement style and business model—both of which are pretty impressive and have earned wide popular and critical acclaim around the country.

First established in 2005, the group is nominally a ballet company, but the talented Trey McIntyre has carved out a niche for himself with a unique style that combines incredible dancers, sophisticated themes, and a range of movement not limited to the classical canon. With his clean, athletic choreography and uncluttered pieces, it strikes me as a distinctly original—and truly American—aesthetic that doesn’t just aim to emulate European-style ballet. And that’s a breath of fresh air.

So is the business model, which is all about turning the company into an established brand. While that sounds like it could result in a very unfortunate overlap of commerce and art, executive director (and dancer) John Michael Schert explains to me that it’s simply about developing the same kind of reputation and following that sports teams enjoy. “We’re fostering a sense of ownership among our national base,” says Shert, laying out a list of activities the company is engaged in, both in its home of Boise, Idaho, and in the various cities it performs in. That includes putting on impromptu street performances, speaking at local forums on the arts, and even visiting schools and hospitals.

Which is how I wound up at Iona Senior Services in Tenleytown Wednesday afternoon. The company was holding a workshop there for the elderly folks who spend their days at the center, and I thought I’d check it out. And that’s why this post isn’t dedicated solely to the company itself: because the event was one of those terrific reminders of the power of movement.

When the workshop began, the center’s regular guests were sitting in a rough circle around the room; some held walkers in front of them, a couple were in wheelchairs, and one looked like he’d fallen asleep. Then the dancers started moving. At first, it was like a soda commercial come to life: gorgeous, impossibly fit young people smiling widely and grooving to a beat in the center of the room. But gradually, they transitioned to a series of simple exercises designed to get long-dormant bodies moving a little.

It wasn’t exactly one of those amazing “Dance conquers the world!” moments—i.e., a made-for-TV scene where down-and-out folks suddenly come alive due to the power of a driving rhythm and some encouragement. Most of the attendees were pretty sick, and many barely moved. But there were flashes—doing the hand jive, the “chicken” (hands in armpits, arms flapping), the twist—where the room literally came alive with whoops and hollers, and it was impossible to resist smiling at these older folks indulging in something that’s accessible to everyone: the joy of movement.

Call it an empty branding exercise, call me cheesy, but I just loved the Trey McIntyre dancers at that moment. I’m sure they’ll be virtuosic on stage this weekend, but most of all, I love the fact that they’re intent on being ambassadors for dance, bringing it just a little closer to "normal" for everyone.

The Trey McIntyre Project performs at Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F Street NW, Friday at 8pm and Saturday at 2pm and 8pm. $25-$75. For tickets, call 202-547-1122 or visit www.shakespearetheatre.org.

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