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Trey McIntyre Project gets creative offstage

The Idaho-based troupe, in residency at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, wants to engage new patrons.

September 29, 2009|Laura Bleiberg

In the old days, the ballet company would come to town, the theater would sell tickets, the dancers would dance, the audience would applaud, and everyone (hopefully) went home happy.

But in these recessionary, interactive times, those rules don't apply anymore. As the numbers of subscribers and ticket buyers decline, dance groups are looking for enticements, beyond actual performances, to get audiences to queue up at the box office. Which is the driving force behind the Trey McIntyre Project Residency at the Orange County Performing Arts Center today through Saturday.

"We want people to engage with the art, to make our art as accessible as possible and reinvent ourselves and redefine our relationship with the community," said Terry Dwyer, arts center president.

The McIntyre Project, an Idaho-based contemporary ballet troupe just beginning its second full season, is more prepared than many dance companies for the shifting ground under its moving feet. Choreographer McIntyre and his 10 dancers are riding a buzz of popularity, thanks to a respected repertory of ballets both thought-provoking and entertaining, and also its embrace of social networking and the latest technology. The TMP website, which McIntyre designs, has updated "documentary" podcasts, dancer blogs and tweets, and lots of behind-the-scenes candid photos.

"I think when somebody does go to the website, gets a podcast, gets a postcard and then they see a show . . . they have an idea of what the company is and go based on that information," McIntyre, 39, said.

The McIntyre Project Residency replaces the center's Fall for Dance festival, another audience-building initiative begun two years ago that sold out both times. Patterned after, and done in conjunction with, New York City Center's award-winning Fall for Dance Festival, the center's festival cost twice as much to produce as the McIntyre Residence. One of its prime innovations was a $10 ticket price and programming of multiple companies and dance styles on the same night.

Scheduling difficulties made it impossible for the Orange County center to coordinate a festival this year with City Center, Dwyer said. Plus, center officials decided to use money saved from the lower cost of the McIntyre Project Residency to restart the outdoor dance parties with public radio station KCRW-FM -- the most recent one attracted 4,000 to the center's plaza -- and will inaugurate an independent band festival in February.

In keeping with the goal of making dance more "accessible," the McIntyre Project Residency is chock-full of events. The group will perform twice in Segerstrom Hall, premiering a center-commissioned piece, "The More I See You," which begins onstage and finishes in the center's vast open plaza, where afterward the audience and professional dancers can meet.

The first few days of the residency, McIntyre and his dancers have a packed schedule of company master classes for local students, including one open for public viewing. There are preview talks and a children's show.

In addition, McIntyre's dancers will be bringing guerrilla dance to an Orange County mall or pier near you, staging what they call a "spurban" -- the 21st century equivalent of a 1960s "happening."

McIntyre likened the spurban (which is short for spur-of-the-moment urban performance) to the hot lunch jam scene from the 1980 movie "Fame" and the T-Mobile commercial in which several hundred seemingly ordinary passersby break into joyous, unison movement at London's Liverpool Street Station. They will find a suitable Orange County sidewalk or open place to perform, hit "play" on the boom box and boogie down, McIntyre said.

A company spokeswoman said a Twitter alert will inform followers where to find the dancers.

For Trey McIntyre Project, the center residency marks its fourth Southern California engagement in the last year (and it will be back at Cal State Long Beach in May).

An independent choreographer for many years, McIntyre had been leery of running his own company because most directors he knew were mired in administrative duties. He ultimately took the leap, he said, because he believed he could create a structure that he could control, rather than the other way around. The first year, despite the worst recession in 60 years, was an artistically rewarding experience, McIntyre said.

"The dancers have asked for ideas that I think I'm going to be spending the rest of my life working on," he said. "I have to keep stepping it up. Now I'm exploring [choreographic] territory that I didn't think I would have time to do in my lifetime."

In addition to the center commission, McIntyre has received funding for several other projects, such as money from the Wolf Trap Foundation for the new "The Sun Road," also on the Segerstrom Hall program. And the company will tour 26 cities across the country again this season.

"There has to be a reason we exist as a company, and it has to be more than having the best possible work on stage. That is a given. With dance it takes so much. We have to be benefiting the world in a big way."

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calendar@latimes.com

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Trey McIntyre Project

Where: Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Trey McIntyre conducts free preview talks at 6:30 p.m. before both shows.

Tickets: $10

OTHER EVENTS

"Spontaneous" performance at Huntington Beach Pier, 5 p.m. today; master class on the Segerstrom Hall stage, which the public is invited to watch, 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Contact: www.ocpac.org; (714) 556-2787

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