Trey McIntyre's audacious choreography lived up to its reputation.

In last Friday's concert of three full-length pieces in Centennial Hall, the 10-member Trey McIntyre Project proved itself to be a child of the 21st century. This fusion of ballet and modern is creating an entirely new dance vocabulary for a new millennium.

What's best is that McIntyre is doing it without resorting to bizarre extremes that shake up conventional thought without adding anything to the conversation. While the alphabet of this new language comes straight from ballet technique, the words spelled out by the dancers' shapes, moves and pacing feel entirely new.

The McIntyre Project is only three years old and already has become such a distinctly different company it is impossible not to wonder what this Kansas native will think of next. He is clearly not in Kansas anymore.

On stage in Centennial Hall it was the city of New Orleans, rather than the Land of Oz, that inspired the first and last pieces on the program. "Ma Maison," which premiered in November, 2008, opened the concert with eight dancers all wearing bone-white skull masks and black leotards splashed with bright colors.

They would have fit right in Tucson's own annual All Souls Procession. "Ma Maison" in its short life has already become one of the project's most popular pieces, depicting that well-known New Orleans' spirit of turning the after-funeral procession into a joyful street party.

The dancers' movement popped with precision, conveying a shared community feeling of the hardship implied in the recorded music played by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

This was choreography that felt loose limbed and informal, yet laced with that fiber of ballet training which enhanced the conviction of blessed spiritual release. To dance a little longer is to live a little longer.

Another re-birth unique to the Crescent City was portrayed in "The Sweeter End," inspired by the delta's ongoing recovery from Hurricane Katrina. This piece was first performed last month. Once again, set to music by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

Wearing the shapeless denim of rough-and-tumble survival, the full company takes part in a series of shorter pieces. They begin ominously with three dancers standing bunched together, their backs to the audience.

A fourth dancer approaches them with a spray can, marking their backs with a giant X, an icon of the heartbreaking hurricane clean-up. On that dancer's back in bright orange letters are the words "What Now."

In the real world the answer to that question is still being worked on as hope gets nurtured by optimism. In McIntyre's choreography, "Sweeter End" starts out with twisted shapes of anguish stretched over time and turned into confident, positive energy.

Completing the program was "(serious)" offered as a change of pace. Set to music by American composer Henry Cowell, the choreography is said to come from McIntyre's dream about eccentric filmmaker Charlie Kaufman. This was pure dance in a more theoretical sense, untainted by any theatrical needs to represent a theme or send a message.

To me, it felt more like getting a peek at a page of Trey McIntyre's dictionary of new dance words. The ones waiting to be re-arranged into new sentences that will send dance critics scrambling for new definitions in years to come.


The Trey McIntyre Project performance at Centennial Hall last Friday.

Chuck Graham has written about the Tucson arts scene for more than 35 years. Read more of his arts coverage at "Let the Show Begin,"