Former OBT dancer Matthew Boyes shares his memories of Speak, Trey McIntyre’s ballet set to a spoken-word piece by Tracie Morris and the hip-hop music of The Bloodhound Gang.
Vanessa Thiessen and Matthew Boyes in the world premiere of Trey McIntyre’s Speak.
Oregon Ballet Theatre, 1998. Photo by David Straub.
By Claire Willett
How was the piece conceived?
Speak was created on Vanessa Thiessen and myself when OBT was still [performing] in the former Masonic Temple, now the new wing of the Portland Art Museum.  Trey had already choreographed Like a Samba [on OBT dancers] and I believe this was his second piece for the company.  It is a true reflection of pop culture at that time.  Both Trey and James Canfield were always inspired and intrigued by contemporary life.  Rap music and hip-hop had already been around for a number of years, but spoken word was just coming out.  Spoken word [had] a more urban/intellectual vibe; people would go to coffee houses and act like modern-day beat poets of sorts.
What was Trey’s vision for the piece?
He really made the duet . . . a conversation between two people.  He would never talk about what to [think] while dancing this.  Every movement [he] choreographed expressed exactly what he wanted, without him [needing to waste] words on explanation.  [The piece is so] different from most classical dance in that there is no love story told between the man and woman.
What was it like to dance Speak?
When we would rehearse he pushed us to our physical extremes, traversing the stage from end to end. For me, if the choreography called for a gesture or kick, it had to start from a thought and explode as a movement.  The duet is really a “street brawl” between two friends.  [It’s] a battle of the sexes with the girl kicking the guy’s butt – literally and figuratively – in the end . . . The female solo was just raw movement, and looked nothing like ballet.  Of course it takes a trained dancer to make this type of dance really look tight and fierce . . . After dancing SpeakI would want to just lay on the floor and catch my breath, but as soon as I rolled offstage I knew I would have to turn around and run out for the bow.
SPEAK – excerpt from Trey McIntyre Project on Vimeo.
How did audiences receive it?
The audience would always go insane with applause!  People really liked it.  Usually it would be sandwiched in the middle of the evening’s program [and] the other ballets would be more “balletic,” so the contrast would really surprise and wake up the audience.
On Anne Mueller
I would like to congratulate Anne Mueller on her many years with both James and Christopher at the helm of the company.  Her personal integrity and work ethic, not to mention her beauty, have stood as an excellent example for [several] generations of dancers. Thank you, Anne, for your friendship and unstoppable drive.

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