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The Vinegar Works is a sweet treat

 Trey McIntyre Project performs The Vinegar Works
Trey McIntyre Project performs The Vinegar Works
Trey McIntyre Project performs The Vinegar Works

The Vinegar Works: Four Dances of Moral Instruction

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“E is for Ernest who choked on a peach. F is for Fanny sucked dry be a leech, M is for Maud who was swept out to sea. N is for Nevil who died of ennui.” Like the fates of Edward Gorey’s characters, all good things must come to an end. So is the case for the Boise-based Trey McIntyre Project (TMP) currently on its final tour.

This weekend, the company was in fine form as they performed the Chicago premiere of the Harris Theater-commissioned The Vinegar Works: Four Dances of Moral Instruction, and Mercury Half-Life.

“It’s been incredibly important for me, ever since founding the company nearly 10 years ago, to consistently create new work,” explained Trey McIntyre, TMP founder and artistic director. “Thanks to the Harris, we’re able to present our last premiere before entering the next phase of our creative life. It’s gratifying to know that the company’s last tour will have an added degree of relevance.”

The Vinegar Works is inspired by the work of the late Chicago artist Edward Gorey who is known for his appreciation of ballet as well as his whimsically macabre writings and illustrations which TMP successfully brought to life (and death) via a combination of classical and contemporary choreography, exquisite costuming, and puppetry designed by Michael Curry. The Music Institute of Chicago’s live accompaniment of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Trio in E Minor added a bewitchingly beautiful layer to the quixotically quirky performance on stage.

“Through partnerships like this, we continue to foster new ideas, new works, and exciting performances, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible,” added President and Managing Director of the Harris Theater Michael Tiknis. “The Vinegar Works is a particularly significant commission because of its collaboration with the Music Institute and the artistic leaders of tomorrow, a true reflection of the Harris Theater mission at work. We’re not just commissioning premieres; we’re cultivating the next generation of great performers.”

TMP also performed McIntyre’s Mercury Half-Life choreographed to the music of Freddie Mercury and Queen. But unlike the compositions of Shostakovich which complemented The Vinegar Works, some of Queen’s bigger hits proved too big for the dancers—especially when only a soloist, no matter how skillful, was either on stage alone or alongside a motionless troupe.

The company was at its best when dancing to Love of My Life, The Millionaire Waltz, and Crazy Little Thing Called Love yet missed opportunities to create choreography to pun Under Pressure. Tap performances nicely suited Bring Back That Leroy Brown and Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon but drowned out Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy which would have been better suited to modern-classical moves rather than We Will Rock You which seemed more appropriate for tap.

Regardless of song and number preferences, it’s always a treat to see a dance company of this high calibre and to hear the artistry of Shostakovich and Queen. Plus the haunting and humorous imagery of Gorey served as vinegar on the cake in the very best sense.

Edward Gorey’s artwork is currently on view through June 15 at both the Loyola University Museum of Art and the Loyola University Chicago Libraries. For a list of upcoming performances at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, visit www.HarrisTheaterChicago.org.