BECKET — In a field overflowing with aspiring dance makers, Trey McIntyre continues to stand apart from — and at times far above — the crowd. His company, Trey McIntyre Project, returns to Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival with a triple bill of dances composed of a contemporary-classical movement vocabulary that is lively and rarely predictable. His strong dancers brim with personality and vitality: They don’t dance at us. They dance, and we seem to be drawn closer toward them.
And indeed, the faint story line of McIntyre’s “Leatherwing Bat” is universal. The cast of six may be seen as two trios perhaps representing the duality of memory, one cavorting with the giddy and carefree ease of halcyon days, the other weighted with tenser times. Though set to children’s songs by the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary, the tone is sweetly humorous rather than syrupy.
Original cast members John Michael Schert and Brett Perry have matured even more into their lead roles, both physically and emotionally, since the piece’s premiere at Jacob’s Pillow four years ago. A long opening solo for Schert is rife with McIntyrisms: very fast, very tricky transitions from parallel to turned-out legs, from flat-footed, folk-like strides to big développés à la seconde. It’s devilish material for any dancer, and particularly for one as tall and muscular as Schert, but he is also wonderfully sinuous: This solo is a true tour de force.
Also stunning are the star turns of Chanel DaSilva, Lauren Edson, and Travis Walker in “Bad Winter” (2012). DaSilva’s solo is a study in contradictions — she sports spotless white tails, but over informal dancewear; she dances to the whimsical “Pennies From Heaven,” yet moves with a tautness that keeps any suggestion of frivolity in check — and its relation to the duet that follows is purposely enigmatic. The duet, however, stings like a fresh wound, as Edson and Walker portray a couple fighting to hold onto both themselves and each other. At one point, Edson sticks her head under Walker’s shirt, vividly suggesting both a desire for blindness and a willingness to be swallowed up; a moment later, she’s wearing the garment and Walker is exposed, vulnerable. When she tries to return it, he flings it away and, lying on the floor, arches in a kind of agony while she hovers over him, her arms protective, like the wings of an angel.
The world premiere of “Ladies and Gentle Men,” inspired by “Free to Be . . . You and Me,” the iconic 1970s children’s record, book, and television special, is the place where McIntyre’s usually keen sense of the line between cheek and cheese falters just a little bit. “Free to Be,” after all, could be McIntyre’s anthem: His dances often convey the frailty, awkwardness, and humor — that is, the tragicomic beauty — of what it is to be a human being. This theme is already implicit in the songs and snippets of dialogue from “Free to Be,” and so it seems that McIntyre could deal with the subject matter in an edgier way, or in a way that speaks more relevantly to contemporary issues. Yes, the desire to be accepted for who we are is an age-old story, and, yes, “Ladies and Gentle Men” is fun. But McIntyre’s ability to get to the truth is usually deeper than the metaphor of stripped-away layers of clothing he offers here. This time, his dancers seem to be hiding something.