It's unusual to hear classical music at the Trey McIntyre Project studios - or to see dancers working on pointe shoes - these days. You're more likely to hear popular tunes from the best, hip, esoteric contemporary songwriters.
But choreographer McIntyre, the artistic director of this brood of talented young dancers, was in the mood to get back to something about his past, he says; to get back to classical for this new piece that will make its world premiere Saturday, Feb.16, at the company's spring concert.
"I've become wary of classical," McIntyre says. "It makes you lazy. A full symphony contains so much musical detail that it's like a road map for you to follow, so I've come to shy away from it."
McIntyre dove in headfirst to classical, creating "Pass, Away" to songs by Richard Strauss sung by American soprano Jessye Norman.
"Pass, Away" will share the program with "Arrantza," McIntyre's exploration of Boise's Basque culture, and "Queen of the Goths," an Idaho premiere of a visceral study of a character from Shakespeare's "Titus Andronicus."
All three pieces are in some way a blast from McIntyre's past.
"Queen" was originally created in 2007 for Washington Ballet in D.C. In it, the main character, performed by Elizabeth Keller, dances on pointe, a classical modality McIntyre mostly left behind a few years ago.
"Arrantza" is from McIntyre's recent past, created in 2010 and premiered during this past Jaialdi, the giant Basque festival that takes over Boise every five years. It then traveled the world in TMP's rep for the season.
"Pass, Away" touches on a more distant history and brings it into today.
During McIntyre's always intense rehearsal process, "Pass, Away" became a moment for him to pause and notice his own evolution as an artist.
The 43-year-old choreographer had used this suite of songs once before - as an 18-year-old student at Houston Ballet - to create one of his first ballets.
"Thinking back to how I was then and how little content there was," he says, "this allowed me to see my progress and growth over the decades."
He started with a memory.
"All I could remember was one gesture, so I used that as a departure point to explore new ideas," he says.
That gesture happens at the beginning of one of the five sections - all duets and solos - as Rachel Sherak perches sideways against Benjamin Behrend. She opens her mouth and reaches forward as if she is calling out to something.
That's the only remnant from that earlier work. The rest is thoroughly grounded in the now - in the reality of McIntyre's personal transitions and growth.
The piece - as the title implies - explores issues of death. Not the big scary DEATH we all fear. It's more a metaphor for the daily small "deaths" that lead us to our ultimate transition.
"It's really about letting go of old ways, something I've been doing a lot of lately," he says. "But it's also about death. I'm really at peace with the idea of my own death. I had that in the back of my mind - the fact that all life ends - while I was working on this. But it's actually a pretty optimistic work."
That truth that no one can escape adds the emotional context to this ballet.
"I gave the dancers license to explore the idea of their own deaths - whatever that means for them, so we're talking a lot about the unknown - and allowed them to draw on that."
The choreography has a weightier quality to it. The dancers lean and press their full bodies against one another, climb on each other in McIntyre's effort to explore new ways of working toward a purposeful creative discomfort.
"Every time I start a new piece, it's a blank slate and I feel utterly optimistic," he says. "A few days into it and I feel like a fraud and I'm ready to quit whenever I catch myself coming to a place I've been before. Then I have to push myself out of it. I don't recognize it and I can't judge it. And I'm surprised every time."
Each of the sections express the inner workings of an emotional process, not relationships between people.
"It's about disparate parts of oneself working together to move forward," he says. "I find I'm happiest when I can slowly experience those little moments, the small details of things that need to end, the mourning that needs to happen - even throwing away a shirt that's been in the closet unworn for years. Getting rid of that is like a small death."