Artistic director Trey McIntyre did something unusual when he began to envision a dance performance set entirely to the music of Queen.
“I began really exploring the life of Freddy Mercury and his trajectory and how he came to be as an artist," McIntyre says. "And that’s something that I don’t think I’ve ever done with a composer or a musician; I tend to separate the work from the artist. But in this case, his life became quite fascinating to me.”
Freddy Mercury, the lead singer of the glam-rock band, died in the 90s with complications from AIDS. He was just 45-years-old.
McIntyre says that while doing his research on the musician, he also got a chemistry lesson that inspired him to name the piece “Mercury Half-Life.”
“When we say half-life, we mean how long does it take for an element or the isotopes that make up an element to degrade by half," McIntyre says. "I thought that was a really beautiful metaphor for the life of Freddy Mercury, being an artist who died before he was finished. And if we think of something degrading only by a half, it never degrades by a whole, meaning there’s some element of it that’s always still here.”
McIntyre had wanted to create something using Queen’s music for a long time, but he waited until he felt ready to handle the material.
"I always want to make sure that I have something to contribute and add to [the music], and not just illustrate the music of Queen," says the artistic director. "And so I felt like I had come to the point where I had the perspective to comment on it."
Many people associate songs like "We Are The Champions" and "We Will Rock You" to grand stadium settings. Those Queen songs have become a soundtrack for popular sporting events, rallying cries for fans cheering on their favorite team. But McIntyre says "Mercury Half-Life" will provide a new context for these songs – one that is every bit as epic and athletic.
At a recent rehearsal, McIntyre choreographs with his 10 dancers. He stops the music to make small changes, and their athletic bodies try to keep up as he works.
Saturday night, many of the songs you’ll hear at the world premiere of “Mercury Half-Life” will be familiar Queen anthems. But McIntyre will also use some less familiar songs from the band's repertoire.
“Well there were a couple songs I was really excited to find because they are structurally so different," he says. "'Love of My Life’ is one, another one is ‘Millionaire Waltz.’
McIntyre says Queen’s music has the perfect blend of showiness and rhythm to highlight a dance style that doesn’t often appear on the ballet stage: tap dance.
Dancer Brett Perry is featured as a tap dancer throughout “Mercury Half-Life.” The piece opens to a solo, Perry standing on stage in a white jacket. The music starts and a confident smile spreads across Perry’s face, and his feet mark the driving rhythm.
Perry says the stage will have microphones around it – so if he misses a step the audience will be able to tell.
"I have to keep reminding myself to be calm about it," says Perry, "because I keep thinking, ‘My gosh, if I miss a sound it’s being broadcasted through a microphone!”
It’s been almost 10 years since Perry put on his tap shoes. But despite some nerves, the dancer says it feels good to be tapping again. He says it makes sense that McIntyre wanted to focus on Queen for the fall show.
“I think Trey’s pushing boundaries about really what can exist in a contemporary ballet company, just like I feel like Queen was pushing the limits on how musicians can perform on stage and pushing the limits of art and music.”
As for McIntyre, he’s only been sleeping four hours a night since he started working on “Mercury Half-Life” this summer. He says he’s driven himself to a new level of artistic madness in the last few months, but it’s been worth it. This is the longest dance piece McIntyre's created since moving his company to Boise in 2008, and will showcase 17 different songs by the famous band.
So, does he ever get tired of listening to Queen?
“I used to say that I get tired of music while working on a piece but I don’t think I have that reaction anymore," says McIntyre. "It’s incredible music to start with – I still love every song in this piece.”
The new Trey McIntyre Project piece will premiere at the Morrison Center in Boise, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
And to get you excited for the show, here's a video of Freddy Mercury performing "Millionaire Waltz," one of the lesser-known songs that will be re-imagined in "Mercury Half-Life."