BalletX, the Philadelphia modern dance company, is premiering a new work based on the music of Amy Winehouse as the finale of a three-part “Winter Series” this week at the Wilma Theater.
Since Winehouse’s drug overdose in 2011, her music and her tragic death have become entwined in the popular imagination. Choreographer Trey McIntyre wanted to separate them.
“I resisted using the song ‘Rehab’ because it’s a story absolutely related to her life. We know that,” said McIntyre during a break in rehearsal this week. “But I found a way to pull out of that, I hope. If anybody is looking for an answer, to figure out this work by looking at her life, it’s not in there.”
McIntyre watched the recent documentary film about Winehouse “Amy” (2015) and was struck by a scene in which Winehouse is recording in a studio with Tony Bennett.
“How unnerved she was, how terrible she felt until it was right. It wasn’t, ‘this is a gradual process.’ It was horrible. Then, it was great,” said McIntyre. “That’s my process. When I’m in the studio, it’s painful until I have it figured out, then it feels like the most incredible thing in the world.”
McIntyre used to be based in Boise, Idaho, where he directed his own dance company. Since dissolving the company two years ago, he has become something of a nomadic artist. “I lived in North Carolina for a while. I was based in Austin for a while,” said McIntyre. “After being a director of a company for 10 years, to live like an artist is like being a kid again.”
BalletX invited him to invent his Amy Winehouse project on the bodies of its own dancers. So McIntyre dressed the entire company in rabbit ears.
“At face value, they are absurd,” said McIntyre. “I wanted to see if the audience could take that concept seriously, not as a joke. There is humor, but I wanted to create a new reality and make sense of it.”
McIntyre uses eight songs by Winehouse, including “Rehab,” “Valerie,” and “Back to Black.” The dance does not illustrate her lyrics or follow any kind of coherent storyline. McIntyre was responding more to the sound of her voice.
“My identification with her centers around getting comfortable with one’s own best part,” said McIntyre. “We all want to be unique and special, but I have come to find that it’s those things that truly make us unique are the things that make us lonely. An artist has to lean into that part, and explore it and tear it open. That is an inconsolable loneliness.”
Along with McIntyre’s new work, BalletX will also feature pieces by company co-founder, Matthew Neenan, and choreographer Yin Yue.