“A is for Amy who fell down the stairs. B is for Basil assaulted by bears . . .”
So begins the grim catalog in author and illustrator Edward Gorey’s cult classic abecedary The Gashlycrumb Tinies, in which 26 children meet their untimely ends in alphabetical order (and in rhyming couplets, no less). The morbid humor of Gashlycrumb Tinies and three other works by Gorey will be performed as live dance theater by the visiting company Trey McIntyre Project at Atlanta’s Rialto Center for the Arts on April 26.
“Trey was really interested in bringing the illustrations to life,” says dancer Chanel DaSilva, who will perform as a possessed nun and other Gorey characters in The Vinegar Works. The piece was created by McIntyre in January of this year and had its official world premiere at Chicago’s Harris Theater last month. “He really wanted to take the images right from the paper and bring them to the stage.”
The Lion King puppeteer Michael Curry helped fill out the cast of characters, which are from four classic Gorey books: The Gashlycrumb Tinies, The Beastly Baby, The Deranged Cousin and The Disrespectful Summons. “It has a very Trey McIntyre signature on it,” says DaSilva. “It’s very accessible. It’s athletic, it’s fun, it’s fast.”
Dancers not only had to exercise their acting chops to become the distinctive and eccentric Gorey characters, but they also had to become puppeteers to operate Curry’s elaborate props and creatures, including enormous birds and an oversize death figure. “It was a new thing for us,” DaSilva says. “I’ve never been on stage and had to work a prop of that magnitude before. I think part of the challenge for Trey and all the dancers was finding that balance between it being a dance piece and a theater piece. I think Trey walked that line really beautifully.”
The work appears on the same program as Mercury Halflife, a 50-minute dance work set to 17 songs — some popular, some lesser-known — by Freddie Mercury and Queen. McIntyre will hold an open rehearsal Friday at 11 a.m., at Atlanta Ballet’s Michael C. Carlos Dance Center on Marietta Street, and a conversation with his dancers at 2 p.m., as part of a Georgia State University residency. In addition, he will give a pre-show talk Saturday at 7 p.m.
The performance at the Rialto represents a “Gorey end” for the company in more ways than one. The renowned Trey McIntyre Project, which has performed worldwide since its founding in 2004, is on its farewell tour this spring. A series of performances at Jacob’s Pillow at the end of June will be the company’s last engagement.
“Our first performance out of the gate as a full-time company was at Jacob’s Pillow,” says DaSilva, who joined the troupe in 2008 just as it was transitioning from being a summer touring outfit to a full-time company. “It’s a really beautiful, cyclical feeling. We started there, and we’re ending there. It brings tears to my eyes. Of course, it’s sad to watch something end, something you’ve been such a part of, but at the same time, we’re all really excited to see what Trey does next.”
One of the most distinctive things about McIntyre’s company was the fact that McIntyre, who was already well known as an independent choreographer in the art and dance capitals of the world when he created his own full-time company, chose to base it in Boise, Idaho.
“That idea was shunned in the dance world,” says DaSilva, who first met McIntyre in 2008 at a workshop he lead at Juilliard. He invited DaSilva to move to Boise and join the company as it took its more fully developed form there. “I knew nothing about Boise,” she recalls. “I literally had to go look it up on a map. People said it was a terrible idea, but actually it was a brilliant idea. Brave, but brilliant.”
Although most observers offered a grim prognosis for a cutting-edge contemporary dance company based in Idaho, it’s impossible to call the experiment anything but a resounding success. The company toured internationally from its base and was embraced by the community in Boise (a New York Times piece reported on how the dancers were often treated like rock stars whenever they were spotted around town).
But now McIntyre wants to take his work in a different direction, and he announced this year that the Trey McIntyre Project will come to an end. As for what’s next for the dancers, DaSilva says it’s a mix: some have fallen in love with Boise and will stay there, others will move on. She says that she herself hopes to continue working with McIntyre by setting his works on other companies and on university dance students. “I’m really dedicated to continuing his legacy as a choreographer,” she says. “I believe his work should be seen. Now that the company is coming to a close, the demand to see his works is going to be very, very high.”
And as for what the ever-inventive, ever-fluid, ever-rebellious McIntyre has next, DaSilva says it will likely involve film, though she won’t get much more specific than that. “What he does next is what he does next,” she says. “He wants to give himself the time and space to understand what it is to make a film. I don’t have a lot of the details on what he has planned, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be cool.”