In his reviews of February 11 and August 17, 2016, New York Times dance critic Alistair Macaulay took Philadelphia audiences to task for not laughing at Trey McIntyres Big Ones, a quirky piece set to the music of Amy Winehouse, with costumes by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung.
As a member of that audience then and now, I like Big Ones but I do not think it is funny per se. Like the liquor and ladies nights at the bars in the Winehouse songs, it lures us in but never hides its darker side. Tragedy is so inextricably entwined with wit that laughter dies at the lump in the throat.
You would be forgiven for expecting a comical piece. The dancers appear in brown pleather shorts and tops, with headgear that looks like bunny ears or lofty helmets. The tall headpieces are awkward and must be difficult to navigate in the dance. They remind us of Winehouses own towering beehive hairstyle, a physical manifestation of the internal burdens weighing her down like those headpieces. Winehouse died of alcohol poisoning less than five years before the premiere of the ballet. When the music begins with the boozy/bluesy Rehab, it is not hard to connect the dance to the singers struggles.
A highlight of the piece was F**ck Me Pumps, danced with saucy bravado by Andrea Yorita, Francesca Forcella, and Skyler Lubinthree women on the make for a millionaire and running out of time. The song drips acid wit, and the dancers do it justice. Chloe Perkes and Zachary Kapeluck danced to Valerie, a song Winehouse covered but did not write. (Indie band the Zutons did that.)
The dance was whimsical and sweet, with Kapeluck performing Winehouses trademark crazy-leg step so incongruously on his tall frame. He attempted to make himself smaller to win the skittish Chloe Perkes as the lyrics sang of a drunk phone call to a friend who may still be in jail.
The choreographers notes say: We are caught in a war between wanting to be great and wanting to be loved. His dance says that war is brave, ridiculous, and tragic. A sophisticated dance audience familiar with BalletXs repertoire could, and did, savor this piece in all its complexity, without much laughing.