Transcript, Episode 48: Tokenism vs. Representation, Bernie Dance Memes, and Trey McIntyre

[Jump to Trey McIntyre interview.]

Margaret Fuhrer:
Hi, dance friends, and welcome to The Dance Edit Podcast. I’m Margaret Fuhrer.

Courtney Escoyne:
I’m Courtney Escoyne.

Lydia Murray:
I’m Lydia Murray.

Margaret Fuhrer:
We are editors at Dance Media, and in today’s episode, we’ll be talking about tokenism versus representation in dance, a huge, complicated topic with really wide-ranging implications. We’ll be touching on The New York Times‘ epic oral history of Moulin Rouge‘s COVID journey, and what the dance community’s takeaways should be from that story. We’ll round up some of our favorite dance-specific Bernie Sanders memes, because extremely niche memes are the best memes. Then we’ll have our interview with Trey McIntyre, the choreographer, and photographer, and filmmaker, whose new project, FLTPK, presents a new and innovative model for online dance.

So, it’s a busy episode. But before we dive in, we want to remind you to give us a follow on social media, if you’re not doing that already. We’re @the.dance.edit on Instagram, and @dance_edit on Twitter. The conversation that we have here on the podcast gets so much more interesting when you all add your voices to it, so please do send us a message, or @ us, or drop us a comment. Let us know your thoughts on the dance stories that we’re talking about, or tell us the dance stories we’re not talking about, and should be. We love that too.

Okay. Now it’s time for our weekly dance headline rundown. Courtney, take it away.

Courtney Escoyne:
All right. While last week’s presidential inauguration could not include the traditional DC parade, due to the pandemic and other concerns, there was a virtual Parade Across America, which featured a nationwide dance-off, appropriately titled Dance Across America, directed and produced by Kenny Ortega. If you’ve got three minutes, guys, just go look it up. It’s just pure delight from beginning to end.

Margaret Fuhrer:
It’s really fun.

Lydia Murray:
I love it. I love the return of joy.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yes. More joy, please.

Lydia Murray:
Yes. So, so necessary. Marcia Sells has been hired as the Metropolitan Opera’s first chief diversity officer. Prior to this role, she was a dancer, then an assistant district attorney in Brooklyn, and the dean of students at Harvard Law School. She will oversee the human resources department and have influence over the Met as a whole, including the board.

Margaret Fuhrer:
So exciting. She was actually at Dance Theatre of Harlem. I mean, we say former dancer—she was a professional dancer.

Courtney Escoyne:
You may recall that San Jose Dance Theatre had thousands of dollars worth of costumes stolen a few weeks ago. Well, 16 of the roughly 100 costumes were recovered last week after being found in bags left in the street at a local park. Among them were the Spanish tutus for the company’s Nutcracker. Now, the company does still have a costume fund that is accepting donations. I wasn’t able to find an updated number, but I believe they’ve so far raised upwards of $10,000 to try to replace the costumes that are still missing.

Margaret Fuhrer:
I mean, a little bright spot in a very weird story. Just deeply weird.

Courtney Escoyne:
Is there a tutu black market I don’t know about?

Margaret Fuhrer:
Where are they going? It’s so strange.

Lydia Murray:
I feel like there’s a plot here for a novel.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah!

Lydia Murray:
Bangarra Dance Theatre, an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dance company, and one of Australia’s leading performing arts companies, is returning to the stage after a 10-month hiatus due to COVID-19.

Courtney Escoyne:
Really exciting to see Australia back on stages. Sadler’s Wells’ Dancing Nation, an online festival produced in collaboration with BBC Arts, goes live today, as you’re listening to this, January 28th. It features prerecorded performances from the likes of Akram Khan, Shobana Jeyasingh, Matthew Bourne, Oona Doherty, Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, Candoco Dance Company, Rambert, a sampling from the theater’s annual Breakin’ Convention—basically I could keep going on, there’s more, but suffice to say, it’s maybe the best sampling of the UK concert dance scene that I can imagine. I used to live really close to Sadler’s Wells, so this is such a great bit of representation. I’m so glad that it just exists out in the world for anyone to be able to see it.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Ticking all of Courtney’s boxes.

Lydia Murray:
The dance world recently said goodbye to Charlene Gehm MacDougal, a former lead dancer with The Joffrey Ballet. She passed away of ovarian cancer on January 10th at her home in New York City at the age of 69. We also lost the Tony Award-winning dance legend and co-choreographer of A Chorus Line, Bob Avian. He was 83.

Courtney Escoyne:
In a brighter spot of news. Memoirs of Blacks in Ballet has announced a new interactive exhibit launching on its site on February 1st. The Constellation Project: Mapping the Dark Stars of Ballet will illustrate how key Black ballet dancers throughout history intersected with and shaped each other’s careers. I have to say, I love anything that takes key players in dance history and gives us some context on how they existed in their time, because I think it helps eliminate the “lone genius” mentality that tends to dominate our thinking about certain figures.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah, for sure. Actually that last headline item is a good segue into our first longer discussion segment, in which we’d like to talk about a piece that Theresa Ruth Howard, who’s the founder of Memoirs of Blacks in Ballet, wrote for Dance Magazine this past week. Her subject was tokenism versus representation in the dance community, which is something that’s especially critical to consider right now, as dance organizations are in the early stages of addressing systemic racism. How can we make sure that as institutions work to diversify their faculties, their casting, their marketing campaigns, their commissions, that we end up in a place where BIPOC artists are not merely tokenized, but actually represented in a real and sustainable way? How can we make sure that this push for inclusion is not a trend, but actually a sign of real progress?

Courtney Escoyne:
I think sustainable is a really key word to what you just said, Margaret. Something that Theresa points out from the get-go in this article is that oftentimes there’s this push because some sort of event in the world happens that makes people say, okay, we need to look at diversity. There is an initial push to appear to be doing that work. Then once things get back to normal, no real change has happened. So this article is really looking a lot at, okay, what actually needs to be done to make this a long-term change? Particularly in the frequently slow-to-change world of ballet.

The key question animating the article is, what is the difference between tokenism and representation? As you might imagine, that is much more difficult to parse than one would think, because representation is part of tokenism by default. Something that Theresa points out is what determines tokenism depends more on why and how someone occupies the space. So it’s not just putting a Black artist or administrator or teacher in place to say, “Hey, we have someone here who is Black. We are ticking this box.” It’s having them to occupy that space in order to, one, allow them to do what they do, and two, actually create change and create momentum towards making things more equitable.

Theresa gets into recent high-profile faculty appointments at major ballet schools. She also gets into waves of digital commissions in the wake of COVID-19 going specifically to Black artists. But one of the things that a lot of this really comes down to that was interesting to me was talking about the idea of consent when it comes to, particularly, these high-profile appointments that happen. Because they might be saying, I’m here to be a good teacher. The people who are making the decisions about the hirings are saying, you’re here to be an advocate and to change things and to create systemic change. That shouldn’t fall solely on the shoulders of one person, and how much they are involved in making that systemic change is something that they should have full consent over. They should have autonomy in making that decision.

Lydia Murray:
I mean, there were just so many important points in this article. The whole piece is just fantastic. But one thing that stood out to me was the disconnect between Aesha Ash’s perspective of her role at SAB of being a teacher first and foremost, and the expectation that the organization expressed of her also being an activist. That really underscored the importance of communication in these situations. Organizations shouldn’t assume that artists or people who are part of the organization who are from marginalized backgrounds want to take on the added role of being change makers for the entire institution. It’s a heavy weight to place on one person or just a few people in addition to everything else that they’re facing. Just in terms of the work itself, and then also just pressure they might feel from the community or what have you to just be the best that they can be at their job.

Courtney Escoyne:
It’s an issue that extends beyond race. Talking about gender, sexual orientation, presentation, identity, all those things—like, as a human being, you should have full control over how much that is used by an organization you are attached to. That is a person’s identity, they should have autonomy over that. They should be empowered to make decisions about how much that is “used.”

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah, absolutely. Let your dancers have a voice in the process.

Lydia Murray:
Marketing also ties into this. She gives the example of what happened when Tamara Rojo took over at English National Ballet in 2012, and there was a rebrand highlighting the company’s storytelling. The marketing approach was transformed so that there wasn’t necessarily a correlation between the dancer being featured in the marketing materials and the dancers onstage, the dancers performing those roles. And that became a problem when Precious Adams was featured—it was considered an example of tokenism. Theresa says in this story that, “If companies are expected to do better by their artists, then the public needs to check itself as well,” which is a very important point. Sometimes people mean well and jump on bandwagons that ultimately hurt the few Black people or marginalized people working at an organization.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah because there was a big public outcry about that marketing campaign saying, right, why are you tokenizing Precious? She’s not even dancing this role on stage. But didn’t acknowledge that it was actually part of, as you said, Lydia, a larger re-imagining of how their marketing was going to work. These issues are so complicated.

Courtney Escoyne:
Yeah. I think this also feeds into yet another issue that Theresa raises, which is: so, for the companies that have been doing the work, maybe a bit quieter, and maybe the companies that are only just now coming to the work, everyone is facing the same question of, if you say nothing about it, no one knows about it. And if you make announcements about it and make a big deal about it, is it going to be read as, you’re just doing this to get people off your back? You’re just ticking a box? And so figuring out how to navigate that, so that the public has enough information to be able—that transparency, so that you’re saying like, “We have not done this well, this is what we’re doing to change it.” That’s the only way that we, as people who are consuming this information that’s being put out, can actually make judgment calls about, yes, you’re doing the work the right way. Oh, you made a misstep here. Oh, this is what’s actually going on here.

Lydia Murray:
It’s important for organizations to understand that they have room for improvement and that their track records might not be the best, and so there could be a trust issue there. And understanding that, yeah, it might seem like they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t initially, but it’s important to do the work anyway,

Courtney Escoyne:
Transparency, transparency, transparency.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Because transparency will earn the trust that is needed. And the thing is that right now, a lot of these efforts, even if they are in earnest, do feel reactionary. Because the only thing that can tell us if they are not is time, is seeing if, over time, these institutions can continue their efforts in an earnest way.

But please, please go read the article in full. We will link to it in the episode description, so you can read it yourself.

In our next segment, we want to get into a massive piece of reporting published by The New York Times a few days ago. The paper talked to no fewer than 52 employees of Moulin Rouge! The Musical about their experiences just before, during, and after the Broadway shutdown. COVID hit Moulin Rouge harder than any other Broadway show. At least 25 members of the company got sick. We actually heard from one of them, Paloma Garcia-Lee, back in our very first voice memo. The bigger picture, this oral history of this past year—it’s a cautionary tale about how a public health disaster can take down even a very commercially successful performing arts venture. But we also think that the cast members’ testimony in particular should prompt the dance world to rethink its attitudes toward performing through illness, which have historically been not so great.

Lydia Murray:
Yeah. A thought I had while reading this piece was, this was made so much worse by “the show must go on” culture of the performing arts. We’ve talked about this a lot in the past. It also brought to mind an older article from Dance Magazine titled “It’s Time To Stop Encouraging Dancers To Always Push Beyond Their Limits.” In part of it, the author says her ballet master used to tell her “die for it,” to avoid simply falling out of rélevé. Of course that’s not a good message to send students. That’s being taken to the extreme here, of course, but it’s a completely unhealthy attitude. As we all know, it has been pervasive for generations in the performing arts and in dance.

But I also just wonder, what will it take to actually change this? What will happen after this? Even after what we’re seeing with Moulin Rouge, what do we actually do? We’ve had these conversations so many times just in the field as a whole. It just seems like it’s a vicious cycle.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah. Will a pandemic be enough? And if not, what will?

Courtney Escoyne:
I mean, I wanted to call out these two quotes that were back to back in this oral history. First one, Paloma Garcia-Lee. And she said, “I was out of the show for almost a week. I had the worst flu of my life, but it’s Broadway. So you come into the show sometimes when you’re not feeling so well. I came back to work long before I was better.” Immediately after this quote, Max Clayton, also a dancer: “I was paranoid that I was letting people down, looking like a weak and capable dancer, a whiner, all of the things that so many actors fear, I didn’t feel great, but I went back. We are expected to show up.” Because that’s the mentality. The mentality is, “Hey, if you don’t want this enough, there’s another person ready and willing to take your place. You won’t be missed.” That’s the attitude largely across the board. Regardless of, if you’re talking about musical theater, if you’re talking about ballet, if you’re talking about concert dance, that’s the attitude that is impressed upon us. We talked about this in connection, not just with showing up to work while sick, not just pushing through injury, but also mental health stuff, which this mentality only worsens this idea of, if you need to take a step back for your own health, it means you don’t want it enough.

It’s unhealthy. It’s not cool. It needs to change. There is some concern that maybe in a couple of years, we’re going to be back to the mentality of, I still show up to work when I’m sick. Hey, also, this is just a symptom of late-stage capitalism. Not going to get into all of that.

Margaret Fuhrer:
There is that.

Courtney Escoyne:
You have to hope that we’ve now lived through a global pandemic, are living through a global pandemic, that has completely upended the way that we live our lives—the dance world, I think even more than most. I want to believe, in my optimistic heart that is there somewhere, that the compassion and the honesty and the concern for public health that has come out of this is going to carry us forward and create a kinder and more compassionate attitude to things just like this.

Lydia Murray:
We have made progress already. Dance companies, I don’t think always had things like physical therapists on board. I mean, progress can be made, so I am also staying optimistic.

Margaret Fuhrer:
This is another one that we encourage you to please just go read the whole thing for yourself. It is full of a lot of heartbreaking things, some hopeful things. Oh my gosh, Danny Burstein talking about…

Courtney Escoyne:
I can’t even talk about it.

Margaret Fuhrer:
…being onstage as his wife, Rebecca Luker, also a brilliant Broadway performer, had just been diagnosed with ALS. And then the show shut down. Then he got COVID and was in the hospital and essentially—this quote about how he acted his way out of the hospital, like doing deep breathing exercises that might get his oxygen levels up: again, performing through illness! This mindset that we’ve ingrained in all of these performers is so insane.

Courtney Escoyne:
I would also, especially if you’re someone who’s listening to this who maybe wasn’t an in New York City or one of the epicenters back in March or April, it gives you a really strong idea of what it felt like to be here. I think that is something that in a lot of places right now, actually trying to understand that is hugely needed.

Also, just to end this on a slightly cheerier note, one of the lighting designers, they were asked about what they’ve been doing, like new hobbies they found and stuff like that during the pandemic, and while they’re not working on Broadway. One of the lighting designers, Justin Townsend, said, “I’ve been having ballet classes with my three-year-old. I have my own tutu.”

Margaret Fuhrer:
Aww. Let’s end on that high note.

Okay. You know, when I was writing the script, I started typing here that right now we need “a second to breathe” after all that intense discussion. Then I realized that using that phrase, after talking about a musical about consumption, whose cast was plagued by a respiratory virus, would be very wrong. So instead, let’s say that we need a minute to decompress after those intense segments.

For the last portion of our round table conversation, we’re going to talk about Bernie names. Specifically, we’re going to talk about the dance world’s contribution to those inescapable Bernie Sanders memes that circulated after the inauguration. Because even though meme culture cycles incredibly fast, and even though in some ways the inauguration itself feels like it happened a hundred years ago, these memes—dare I say they’re timeless? They’re so good. I’m not over it.

Courtney Escoyne:
My personal favorite remains, someone took an archival shot of Pina Bausch in her Café Müller and just photo-shopped Bernie sitting at one of the café chairs, like with his arms crossed, as Pina’s running behind him. It’s the most perfect thing that I could imagine.

Lydia Murray:
I just love seeing the way that so many different cultures and subcultures have put their own stamp on the Bernie thing. It’s like, everyone can relate to it in some way. We can make him fit in so many different contexts. Seeing us all embrace one cultural trend in our own unique way, it’s nice.

Courtney Escoyne:
Like the people who are editing him into Miyazaki films?

Margaret Fuhrer:
Oh, I missed that.

Courtney Escoyne:
Beautiful. I’ll send you some, Margaret, they’re so pretty. A friend of mine, I just have to give her a shout out, sent one to our friend group text. Someone had edited Bernie into the famous Ohad Naharin piece that appears in Minus 16 where everyone’s in the chairs and their suit jackets—

Margaret Fuhrer:
Any dance with chairs was so ripe for this.

Courtney Escoyne:
Any dance with chairs! But she sent it to us with the comment, “It’s minus 16 degrees. That’s why he needs the mittens.” That’s it. That’s the joke.

[laughs and groans]

Margaret Fuhrer:
Lydia, while I totally agree with you that it was great to see everybody unite over this one meme, I do also want to argue that I think dancers were especially good at this. Because there’s—I mean, I love dance people. They see their own bodies so clearly, and anybody who can apply that level of detail to the rest of the world is really funny. The meme that I like best is, somebody took a shot from Chicago’s “Cellblock Tango,” and they just added Bernie as one of the murderesses, but they made the caption: “Pop, six, squish, healthcare, Cicero, Lipschitz.” The fact that even “healthcare” has the two syllables of the original, which was, “Uh uh”—it’s so perfect. It’s absolutely out of a dancer’s detail-oriented mind. I love that.

Lydia Murray:
My favorites were the ones where he was photo-shopped into a dance studio at the front, like an artistic director. It just really captured that energy, like here I am, I’m doing my own thing…

Courtney Escoyne:
Because pick a director. I can think of so many directors just recreating that exact pose and attitude at the front of the room. I love that about it.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Even with the mittens, which very much have the vibe of those booties we all used to wear over our pointe shoes.

Courtney Escoyne:
A confession: I am actually wearing those around my apartment these days because it’s cold.

Margaret Fuhrer:
That feels right and appropriate.

Courtney Escoyne:
They’re so cozy!

Margaret Fuhrer:
All right, we’re going to take a break. When we come back, we’ll have our interview with Trey McIntyre. So stay tuned.

[pause]

TREY MCINTYRE INTERVIEW

Margaret Fuhrer:
Our guest on the podcast today is Trey McIntyre. Welcome, Trey.

Trey McIntyre:
Thank you so much, Margaret.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Trey is an acclaimed choreographer and photographer, and now filmmaker as well. His dance company, Trey McIntyre Project, was a pretty stupendous success from its founding in 2005 until its closure in 2014. And recently Trey launched FLTPK, which is an innovative new subscription service that rethinks the creation and distribution processes for digital dance films. And that’s what we’re here to talk about today. But for a little context, can you actually go back in time and talk about why you chose to close, or rather transition, your dance company when you did? Why was it time to move on?

Trey McIntyre:
Gosh, that’s an answer that evolves over time, the more I think back and kind of look through all the elements. I mean, I think the short answer was at the moment that the decision came, I was completely overwhelmed. It was a successful company, as you mentioned, but with success I think comes greater expectation, and the demands of meeting that level over a sustained period of time are just, they’re so much. And essentially I had stopped viewing myself as an artist. I was really an administrator and a leader. Those were roles that I really got a lot out of and felt like I had a lot to contribute and I got a lot from. But in the end who I am is an artist, and I had to make space for that. And that was absolutely the case.

I mean, we ended the dance company at its highest point really. I really kind of get to put that lovely time up on the shelf and not see it come to a close out of any problem, but rather really having fulfilled its mission. And the transition allowed me what I hoped it would, which is, I have felt like an artist again ever since. And any difficulties I had with the uncertainty of being a freelance artist, now I embrace them and love them. I get to go to a company and really just focus on the work. And there’s a whole group of people there who are already ready to help me do that. And their individual bottom lines aren’t my responsibility. It’s just making the best work I can. So that’s really in essence why the transition happened.

Margaret Fuhrer:
You’ve been a photographer for awhile. Let’s talk about the timeline a little bit here: Was it after the closure of the company that you first started experimenting with filmmaking?

Trey McIntyre:
Let’s see. Well, I have actually always had a camera in my hand really throughout my whole career, even from the early days when I danced with Houston Ballet. I remember, I made a feature length film shot on betacam in … gosh, it would’ve been like ’94, before we all had our camera in our hand all day long. I just kind of BS’ed my way into the local access television station and got use of their equipment and made a film back then. So it’s really always been a part of my thinking. And I got serious about photography really when I stopped dancing with Houston Ballet. I was transitioning to becoming a full-time freelance choreographer and it wasn’t taking up all my time yet, so I had more time to do creative work. And I was living in Phoenix, Arizona, and connected with a Yoda of photography, and he really taught me how a camera worked and really explained it from the inside out in a way that that developed a lifelong passion.

I’ve never really thought of myself simply as a choreographer. I think of myself as an artist who, I want to use whatever medium is at my disposal to express something, to shed light on something, to show it in a different way, in a way that’s unique to what my voice is. I think, I’m constantly mastering new mediums that I can utilize. And so shooting, video and photography, that’s certainly part of the staple for me.

Margaret Fuhrer:
And how has your work in each of these different media—how has each medium informed the other? How does one thing in photography influence your dance work, your choreography? How does working in film influence your photography?

Trey McIntyre:
Yeah, yeah. They each really have very specific aspects, at least in terms of my process or what I’ve discovered in the process, that does very clearly influenced the others. I would say that, film … I would say, photography and working for concert dance have … They’re the most separate in a certain way, and inform each other the most directly. It’s tough as a choreographer to have such limited time in the studio, and you must be creative during these hours in the day. You’ve got this time to do it, and you get really good at turning that switch on and not waiting for inspiration to come. When shaping a photograph, there’s a much more relaxed time schedule. You may have a for example, a space rental that limits the time, but there’s no downside, if something doesn’t come of it during that period of time. And so, working with a collaborator the way I might with a dancer in a more fluid environment, it’s just a different way of training the brain.

And then, most of my photography really focuses on nudes. And I think that there’s a gap that I’ve bridged in my thinking where, I’ve always felt weird about tights or just kind of this idea of, “Okay, we’re presenting the human body as a beautiful thing, but not exactly. There’s things we must cover up.” And there’s this kind of an inherent celebration and shame that aren’t really voiced. Because I generally work with in photography with dancers or with athletes or people that have some kind of discipline that’s around their bodies, to kind of do away with that and to be in the space of … It’s real intimacy, it’s pretty much always just myself and whoever I’m working with to create this space that both celebrates and makes us a safe capsule for a human being to be naked in. To experience this metaphor of being your true self, of exposing yourself, of being seen. There’s something really exceptional and privileged about getting to be a part of that and getting to be the person who makes that space.

And so I think that there’s parts of that kind of level of intimacy that have been found. I can find them now in the dance studio, I can create a safe space for someone to explore creatively or emotionally in the studio, because I’m more tuned into it. I’m more tuned into what the needs of that person might be in that moment. And that’s important because dance studio is a place of chaos. It’s so many different personalities and needs and people and noise, and I’m incredibly distracted by noise, it’s something I’ve had to master. And so to be able to hone in and to care for people in that environment has been an acquired skill.

And so, I guess, I would go further to say then with film, I feel like the film I’ve been making, especially for FLTPK, is a true combination of both how I work in the studio and how I work as a photographer. It’s really been a place to kind of merge those two worlds together and to create something different.

Margaret Fuhrer:
So let’s talk about the beginnings of FLTPK, because you started this particular adventure back at the dawn of quarantine last year, is that right

Trey McIntyre:
Correct.

Margaret Fuhrer:
What was sort of your “aha” moment?

Trey McIntyre:
Yeah. I don’t generally have “aha” moments—things I think kind of, they sort of build—but this one definitely came in that way. I was in Houston, Texas. I just finished a premiere for Houston Ballet. It was this epic piece for 12 men and it was all David Bowie music. And we were just so jazzed for the premiere to come up. And the Wortham Theater closed on opening night. We did everything except the performance.

And so there was this kind of momentum that was stilted. I made the choice to stay in Houston because that was really the time that New York … I live in Brooklyn, and that’s really the time New York was becoming quite bad in terms of COVID. And I thought, “Best to stay where you are.” And so I got an Airbnb in Houston, but immediately started thinking, “I’ve had this great relationship with these dancers. They’re all sitting around waiting for what’s going to happen next. How could I do something?” And especially because Texas has just been so warm and great, I thought, “We could probably safely be making some dance films outdoors. We’re going to have to grapple with this at some point, let’s find a way to be making some content.”

I didn’t want to ask anyone to work for free, it just seemed like a bad moment. I mean, I’m sure everybody would have done it just because we wanted things to do, but it was an uncertain time. And I think honoring artists however I could was an important thing. And so I made these three dance projects and I fundraised each one and was able to come up with a small budget for each. And I just talked to everybody involved in each project and said, “Hey, how would you feel about if we did this super egalitarian split?” And we divided it up and people really responded well to that. It ain’t much, but if we all have the same stake in it, then that feels really good in a moment like this.

And so after doing several of those, I started to think about, “Well okay, what’s next?” And I’ve had a Patreon account—Patreon is basically a crowdfunding site for our artists to have ongoing support for their work. I’ve had one for my photography, which is at patreon.com/treymcintyre. I’ve had that for about three years, and that’s the main place I showcase my photographic work, and that’s been quite successful. I mean, as an unknown photographer, I’ve built a pretty great and loyal audience on that platform. And I thought, “Well okay, I definitely probably have more … There’s more people who know who I am as a choreographer. Why don’t I start experimenting with this same crowdfunding model by making dance films?”

And that was really the “aha” moment for me that I thought, “Well, actually at this moment in history, this is probably so much bigger than just what I want to do with my own work.” And the idea really came to relaunch the dance company as a new idea, not as a community of dancers in one place, but as a worldwide community of artists who are coming together to what I think is developing a new medium. I think it’s not so much dance film as it is really trying to understand this new interaction, where we are all now at this moment where we’re spending so much more time with our screens, because that’s the option we have during quarantine. And as much as dance companies have tried to bridge that gap and make more digital work, there just hasn’t been the time and the resource and the audience focus. Well, now is the time. And I thought, “It’s now or never, baby.” And I also love the idea of trying to build some income, whatever it might be, for artists who are in such an uncertain place.

And so, honestly this went from idea to implementation in about 30 days. And I made that leap because I understood the crowdfunding model quite well and thought I had worked out a lot of the kinks. And so I just launched into it and started reaching out to people. I really tried to make my focus the most diverse community of artists I possibly can at all levels. Be it gender, race, notoriety as a dance maker—or even not necessarily dance people. Like the actor Alan Cumming is working on making a piece. Anybody who has a real idea that they want to try to take somewhere, I want to see if this platform can really make the space, support them in making the work and continually build the audience that’s going to bring the resource and desire for them to keep making it.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Now, my next question is about what your overall mission for the project is. I feel like you already answered that, but maybe a way to expand on it is to talk about the name. Where did the name FLTPK come from?

Trey McIntyre:
Well, it feels kind of like the furniture you get from Ikea that comes in those flat packs, and it’s just a bunch of boards stacked. That’s really kind of a nothing thing. And when that began, I think that was maybe like a ’70s, ’80s invention, as a way of making furniture more affordable and more accessible to people, but of a certain like level of design and something beautiful they can have in their home. And you get this seemingly dull two dimensional box, it opens up and comes to life in your home. And in a certain way, the computer screen is that. It’s a flat two dimensional thing, and it’s really nothing until the breadth of the interaction, until the breadth of the art comes into it. So it’s kind of really a metaphor of that, about how something can have life breathed into it depending on what you do with it.

Margaret Fuhrer:
You mentioned that you’re prioritizing diversity when it comes to choosing this group of artists working on this project. But how else have you gone about curating this group of artists? Because there are some really extraordinary people involved.

Trey McIntyre:
Yeah, it’s a really wonderful group. I mean, I really just keep throwing the fishing line out there. I have fortunately in the past couple of years interacted with a lot more dance makers. I think choreography is generally a pretty lonely profession because you’re usually the only choreographer around, other than the artistic director you might be working for. But gosh, I guess it’s been three, four years ago now, I participated with San Francisco Ballet in their festival of new works, where they had 12 premieres in seven days. And it was just a remarkable thing to be a part of. And one of the benefits was just meeting so many great people. And so some of the collaborators for FLTPK came just from those meetings.

I really do not want it to be dictated solely by my own aesthetic. I want it to be a welcome place for all kinds of voices. So I’ve been scouring the internet and reaching out to people on Instagram and asking other people who they like and who they’ve seen. People either respond by being really excited about it and being ready for it, whether or not they’ve had experience making video, or I can tell it’s just not where they are at this moment. One of the outcomes from launching it so quickly, is just really needing people who are ready to go and ready to make it now. I’m certainly sowing the seeds for people who have a longer process. And one of the benefits of this platform I think is, well, we don’t really have to book a venue or start selling seats. So I can be quite flexible if someone needs more time or if this is a far reaching plan. Everybody’s process is different in that way.

Margaret Fuhrer:
And how about the work that you yourself have made for FLTPK, because you’ve made—is it five pieces at this point?

Trey McIntyre:
Five.

Margaret Fuhrer:
What have you been vibing on during this period? What have your inspirations been?

Trey McIntyre:
It’s run the gamut in a certain way. I think it’s kind of in the same way I approach any piece that I make. I want to learn something new from each one. Especially early on, a lot of them are run by resource. Meaning, there’s not a budget, there’s a lot of begging and borrowing to make things happen. They’re inspired by what dancers I have available to work with. One of the big things that’s been important to me is to have original music for each one. If anything, just to provide an opportunity for a composer or a singer or a musician to be able to make something right now.

The most recent piece I made is based on the myth of the Minotaur from Greek mythology, and it really came from a day I met the dance writer Alastair Macaulay. He invited me to go to the British Museum, while I was in London recently. And I’m not a big museum fan, but he talked me into it. And what a great host he was because I really learned so much.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah, if there’s anyone to go to a museum with…

Trey McIntyre:
Yeah, I mean, imagine! And so what was really excellent was he knew so many references to different pieces and how they had an inspired different choreographers, even may have inspired a specific movement. Like he could identify what it came from. And that in a certain way, it seems like a thing from a different time. To go to a museum for that kind of content. But of course, I have to think, “Well, that’s certainly well before the digital age and I have access to literally anything without leaving my home.” And so a museum was probably a more special thing in that time. I just set the task for myself to choose something from that day. And I’m very interested in Jungian psychology and the Greek mythology, certainly it plays into that heavily.

So I chose the Minotaur myth for a couple of reasons. One was, I was working with this dancer, Daniel McCormick, who is a dancer with English National Ballet. And he’s somebody who I’ve had just kind of this happenstance relationship with. He was in the Jackson competition and won dancing a solo of mine there, which is also where he got his job in London. And then he competed in the emerging dancer competition there, performed that same solo again and won. And so, it was nice to kind of reconnect with him and make something. And he has this really like intense—like he’s brooding, handsome, dark-featured. He’s got this kind of like masculine, bull energy, that kind of made sense as a character.

And then additionally, I had gotten to know the people that ran this new facility called Hackney Depot, which is in a kind of ’70s, ’80s bus garage building, and the top floor used to be the lounge and locker area for the drivers, but it’s been sitting empty for quite a while. So these developers have taken it over and they’re making it into these workspaces for artists or craftspeople. And so I got talking to them and while it’s under construction, it basically makes this labyrinth that’s very much—there was just a nice fit for the mythology of the labyrinth from the story. So I just asked them if they would let me use it. And they were so generous in that, they also entered in as one of the artistic collaborators. Meaning, they’re accepting an equal part of the profit, just like everybody else, which probably doesn’t even get close to what their rental fees might be, but in an effort to really support something and to support work being made. Because I think that organization is very dedicated to their mission, which is to allow work, to get made. They struck the same bargain.

So that’s just one of them. And then, the other ones. I worked with an animator, Jason Sievers out of Boise, Idaho, who I met when I was there and had my dance company. And so there’s long animated sequence of claymation. And so I got to work, basically like collaborating with Play-Doh to make a dance. So it’s kind of run the gamut.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Have you been watching any Graham recently? All of your references for that last piece seemed very Graham-centric.

Trey McIntyre:
Well, who knows, if maybe I’d heard that in the past, but I don’t think I knew that. I’m not that familiar with Graham’s work, but of course, after I made the film Alastair give me the full education on that.

Margaret Fuhrer:
I was going to say…

Trey McIntyre:
I hope it just came through the ether and not accidentally from something I knew from the past!

Margaret Fuhrer:
So, everybody has said over and over that the dance world, especially right now, is in desperate need of viable, sustainable approaches to performance. That’s true during the pandemic; it’ll still be true after the pandemic. And you seem like one of the few people who’s figured out a real solution to that problem. Do you think this is a model that’s Trey McIntyre-specific? Or do you think this is something that other people could or should replicate in the dance world or beyond the dance world?

Trey McIntyre:
It’s hard to say, it may be too early to say so. I think every company having their own paid platform may not be the way to go. I would love it if, for example, FLTPK developed such an audience that different organizations would want to move in and out of it and basically be a part of something that could expose different people to different voices and not keep it segmented, but keep it as a medium that could reach the world. Meaning like, not each company keeping their audience pulled over here and my audience pulled over here. I would love it if FLTPK had contributors from corners of the world that we didn’t even know dance existed.

I do think that companies are going to have to find a meaningful way to utilize this medium. And I don’t think that only broadcasting stage performances is the way to do that. It’s different. They can be wonderful and I’ve seen some that are done wonderfully, but there’s something missing. And there’s a part of it that makes you long for being back in the theater. And so I don’t think that’s exactly it. I think that that dance organizations really need to make space for the development of, how do we make this medium its own thing, its own art form, that still utilizes the beauty of dance, but takes advantage of what’s possible here, that’s not possible on stage? And I think that remains to be seen.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Had there not been a pandemic, had COVID not happened, do you think you still would have ended up creating FLTPK? Did this crisis kind of accelerate or crystallize a plan that was already taking shape, or was it really the inspiration for all of it?

Trey McIntyre:
What a great question. It’s hard to say. I think it was not something I was thinking about pre-pandemic. The early months of it were blissful for me, honestly. Because I had great health, I was away from my home city. So there was zero obligation, but full creative inspiration. And I’d never really had that experience where I wasn’t obligated to do anything and there was really space to kind of hear what my artistic muse was saying. I just had never known that and immediately was going toward making digital work. I think I would have arrived at, at some point needing to just decide. Well, how do I get this to people? But I don’t think it would have happened so quickly, certainly, without the pandemic.


Margaret Fuhrer:
You’re talking about space to think. And I feel like that’s true for so many dancers and also dance organizations: The pandemic has given them the time to think about a lot of problems that have been plaguing the dance world for a while. And you were talking about the egalitarianism of this platform, about making a conscious effort to include diverse voices. How else do you think FLTPK dovetails with the other movements that we’ve seen happening in the dance world during the pandemic, after the murder of George Floyd? How does that all kind of tie together?

Trey McIntyre:
I think the big question is—and this was the question that I kept in the forefront, even when we had a dance company—you must always think about why you exist. And I don’t think “to make dance” is reason enough, because you’ve got to make sure someone cares besides you. And I say that just because dance takes so much resource, it’s just so much money, it’s such an enormous machine. And if it is existing for a very small segment of the population—a beautiful Swan Lake is a miraculous thing, but if that’s happening for a very small group of people, then I don’t think that it’s worth it. And so the beautiful part of this moment is that we must face these things right now. We must really look hard at, is the thing that we’re doing, is it something that matters?

And so I think all these things dovetail into the same thing, whether it is who’s being represented, who it’s being presented for, does the content of this work really speak to this moment in time—all those things are the big question of, what are we doing on this planet? And I kind of actually think one of the things we can get quite guilty of is that, dance takes everything you got. You start as a little kid and you devote your life to it. And it’s just so hard. Ballet in particular is just so hard to achieve. And it’s so specific that you get so caught up into that, and you just forget: Most of the audience doesn’t know if your double tour landed well. They have no idea. And that can really be the most important thing to us.

We can step back 200 yards and think like, okay, that’s all great. And we can keep that as a base. But what really matters in all of this, and what can we make paramount that makes dance a part of the world today? And if we can’t do that, my personal belief is we shouldn’t invest in it. But my personal belief is that we can do that. We just need to make the choice to do so. And so in that way, I have so much gratitude for this moment in history because these things—there’s an earthquake happening and you’ve got to take care of your business or things are not going to work out for you.

Margaret Fuhrer:
So finally, it seems like this project is constantly evolving, but what would you say at this point are your goals for the future of FLTPK? How do you envision its place, especially in a post-pandemic world?

Trey McIntyre:
I would love to see it be one of the elements of how dance is presented. I don’t think it’s at a risk of enveloping or replacing live dance or theater, but how amazing, if a choreographer was making a world premiere for a live performance, if there was an accompanying film that was maybe an additional element or a different way of envisioning part of it that could extend the reach of what that work is. I would love to see discoveries happen. Like really, what’s thing that we haven’t thought of in the way that this can jump off the screen? Is it the way we use sound? Is it the way we ask the person in their home to participate? Those are the things I find really exciting.

As much as I want this to provide income and to help people right now, none of this is an emergency effort to save the day. It’s utilizing the opportunity of this moment to see what I and what the organization can help contribute to our future, and actually addressing what the world’s asking for right now.

Margaret Fuhrer:
It’s been so nice talking to you and getting to know you a little bit.

Trey McIntyre:
The pleasure has been mine and thank you so much for having me.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Before we say goodbye, can you talk a little about exciting things that you have on the horizon, new FLTPK films that are coming up? Alan Cumming—what’s Alan Cumming doing?!

Trey McIntyre:
Alan for example, he’s going to be collaborating with Steven Hoggett, the choreographer. They’re working on a project that’s eventually going to be … I guess I can’t say much about it, but they’re already working on a stage project together. And of course, because of schedules and because of COVID, things kept getting postponed. I can’t say when that premiere is going to happen yet. But we just had a premiere by Loughlan Prior, who is an incredibly talented choreographer from New Zealand. And then coming up, we’ll have a work by Eoghan Dillon, who is a dancer with Parsons Dance. Followed by the second premiere by Alyse Rockett, who’s an amazing choreographer from Los Angeles and just a dear human being. And so keep an eye out for those.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Oh, her first piece was so great—Banter, that was so great.

Trey McIntyre:
I loved that one too.

Margaret Fuhrer:
And where should people go to find these films?

Trey McIntyre:
Yeah, the address is F-L-T-P-K.com. So it’s “flatpack” without any vowels or without a C.

Margaret Fuhrer:
And we’ll link to that in the episode description to make it easier too.

Trey McIntyre:
Awesome.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Thank you so much, Trey.

Trey McIntyre:
Thank you. Take care.

[pause]

Margaret Fuhrer:
Thanks again to Trey. And man, I really wish I could have been a fly on the wall during his museum outing with Alastair Macaulay, which sounds like it was epic. Anyway, in addition to visiting the FLTPK website, please be sure to keep up with Trey’s dance projects on Instagram @treymcintyredance. And you can also see what he’s up to as a photographer by following @treymcintyrephoto. Lots of beautiful things on both accounts.

All right. Thanks everyone for joining us. We’ll be back next week for more discussion of the news that’s moving the dance world. Keep learning, keep advocating and keep dancing.

Courtney Escoyne:
Mind how you go, friends.

Lydia Murray:
Bye everyone.