Vibrant New Orleans-style jazz and brilliant contemporary ballet collided in ways at once unpredictable, satisfying and often wondrous when the musicians of Preservation Hall and the dancers of Trey McIntyre met at Walt Disney Concert Hall on Tuesday.
With “Band’s in Town,” the eight members of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band immediately established their stylistic authority and consummate skill as soloists, playing from a tiny platform at the far end of the hall. The prevailing acoustics masked the amplified vocals but kept Freddie Lonzo’s trombone and Ben Jaffe’s tuba nearly seismic, even in the fabulous massed jams.
If the band upheld a noble American tradition on Tuesday, the choreography extended it by finding exciting movement equivalents for some of the bedrock principles of jazz — intricacy, for starters, plus individual expression and a sense of unbridled syncopation. In the 9-month-old “The Sweeter End,” the 10 members of the Trey McIntyre Project performed with devastating sharpness a breathless, engulfing, high-speed amalgam of ballet steps, gymnastic feats, ballroom fragments and eruptions of snake-hips undulation. And it always flowed, always swung.
By itself, John Michael Schert’s extraordinary solo to “Ol’ Man Mose” showed you a linear ballet body suddenly fractured, melted down, reintegrated and reconstituted as a futuristic prototype ready for anything. And the two contrasting arrangements of “St. James Infirmary” (one weighty and dirge-like, the other explosively propulsive) found McIntyre’s forces not so much dancing to the music as developing a daring, virtuosic dialogue with it.Seen at the Hollywood Bowl a year ago, the 2008 suite titled “Ma Maison” put a conceptual frame around the dancing by dressing the cast in skull masks and playing for macabre humor. But the loose-limbed, mock-throwaway style and grotesque apparel didn’t slow anyone down. And just when you thought the careening ensembles were about to become dangerously formless and incoherent, McIntyre nailed them to the music and stage space with a startling unison passage or moment of perfect synchrony — one that dissolved so quickly you might almost have imagined it.
Meanwhile the band played on, sometimes deferring to the dancers by providing spare drum-and-hand-clap accompaniment, but elsewhere challenging any dancer anywhere to match the spirit and cohesion of its super, über-Dixieland musicianship. But the wow factor of McIntyre’s choreography never faltered, so the evening sustained the sense of an ideal collaboration and proved again that there is indeed such a thing as genuine 21st century ballet, and it belongs more to this guy from Wichita than any of the over-hyped pretenders from England, France or Russia.
McIntyre rocks, McIntyre rules. Everyone else can just get in line.
“I could almost hear the clatter of bones as nine skeletons, dressed in Carnival motley, shimmied to the wailing clarinet, dangled loose-limbed arms to the thrum of the banjo, and jerked their heads, as if nagged by the long, steady roll of the snare. When a downbeat came, they let loose with fluttering steps and whiplash turns from the world of ballet, moving with the singular purpose of schooling fish chased by a shark.
For me, and the thousand cheering dance fans who packed Tulane University’s Dixon Hall on Friday, Nov. 21, it seemed that Mardi Gras had come early — not the Bourbon Street party for hooting tourists and girls-gone-wild, but the dark revel that only makes sense when you’ve gone through a hurricane season, buried a few friends and danced in a second line parade with tears in your eyes.
Is it clear that I’m also talking about an artistic triumph? I hope so, for that’s exactly what was delivered in “Ma Maison,” the stunning, 30-minute dance collaboration between choreographer Trey McIntyre, local costume designer Jeanne Button, the improvising musicians of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and nine dancers whose artistry let them forge a powerful blend of street styles and ballet athleticism.
“Ma Maison” unfolded seamlessly on Friday as dancers from the Trey McIntyre Project mixed Halloween mime and ballet lifts with knee-knocking Charleston steps and the sudden shifts of direction one associates with great running backs at the line of scrimmage.”