For legendary choreographer Dianne McIntyre, dance isn't just moving to the music — it's becoming part of the music.
"I feel that I'm creating music with my body," said the winner of three Bessies and a Helen Hayes Award, and the recipient of scores of other arts honors.
For "In the Same Tongue," co-presented and co-commissioned by Northrop and the Walker Art Center, the 77-year-old McIntyre has teamed up with avant-garde jazz composer Diedre Murray for a world premiere work about the relationship between movement and sound. A core group of five dancers will perform with live musicians, plus additional dancers from the Minnesota-based TU dance troupe's training program, Cultivate.
McIntyre said that as an audience member, she's most drawn to dance when she can see the music in the performer's body.
"They have a way of making it look like they are creating the music as they go," she said. "Music is happening at the same time as they are. It's almost like the music is coming through them."
And this can happen, she said, even when there is a pause in the music. "In that silence, I want the audience to hear the music through the body."
Philip Bither, the Walker's performing arts senior curator, got to know McIntyre's work during his time in New York in the 1980s and '90s.
"It became pretty clear to me that of all the dance makers and choreographers that I was aware of, this is one person who had earned the trust and reverence by all these major figures in contemporary jazz and new music, including people like Cecil Taylor, Lester Bowie and Max Roach and all these icons that I admired greatly," he said.
McIntyre traces her connection to music to her days as a dance major at Ohio State University, when she studied with Judith Dunn, who had worked with Merce Cunningham, and Dunn's partner, trumpeter Bill Dixon. Training with them while at school and later in New York City, she developed a grounding in both dance technique and improvisation. She also felt electrified by the free jazz genre that the couple introduced to her.
The Cleveland native recalls going to a record store in her hometown and asking the clerk rather vaguely for "something called avant-garde or new music or free jazz."
"The person didn't even blink," she said. "He went and he picked up this album, by a musician named Albert Ayler, and said, 'This is what you want.'"
McIntyre remembers playing the record over and over again. "It made me want to create dance," she said. "It was magical."
In the 1970s and '80s, McIntyre ran a dance company called Sounds in Motion in Harlem. After closing the company in 1988, she pursued independent work, and was one of the artists Bither brought in after he started at the Walker in 1997 for a series that teamed up contemporary jazz musicians with dancers.
For that series, McIntyre created a work with renowned trumpeter Lester Bowie and his Brass Fantasy group. Gerald Brazel, who was part of Brass Fantasy for the show, is now the bandleader for the musicians performing "In the Same Tongue."
In the new piece, the music spans different eras — from blues and swing to the sounds of the Black Arts Movement. There's also spoken text by the late poet and Obie-winning playwright Ntozake Shange, who collaborated with McIntyre numerous times in the past.
McIntyre also has had a fruitful relationship with Murray, whom she admired even before they started working together. As a woman working in a male-dominated industry and as a cellist working in the jazz tradition, McIntyre saw Murray's work as revolutionary.
"Her mind is so expansive and surprising," McIntyre says of Murray. "I like the surprises that she comes up with."
There also was a simultaneity when the two worked on "In the Same Tongue," with the music and dance coming together seamlessly. Often joining rehearsals via Zoom, Murray worked in tandem with the musicians and dancers, riffing on each other's ideas in real time.
"It was very unified," McIntyre said.
The work also employs an improvisational approach, something McIntyre was reluctant about revealing earlier in her career. While improvisation is a key element in the jazz tradition, McIntyre worried that people might think less of her abilities if they knew large sections were made of spontaneous composition.
"In the dance world, sometimes people think that if you're improvising, you're just buzzing around," she said.
But critics have lauded her improvisational style. Wendy Perrin devotes a chapter to McIntyre, calling her the innovator of dance improvisation in her book "The Grand Union: Accidental Anarchists of Downtown Dance, 1970-1976."
Bither said that he's heartened to see McIntyre finally getting the attention she deserves for being a pioneer of not just a Black contemporary dance but also of the interdisciplinary work between jazz improvisers and choreography.
"Dianne has figured out this wonderful synergy and these deep relationships with musicians who flocked to her because they felt she was one of the few who understood them and their music," he said.
'In the Same Tongue'
Who: Dianne McIntyre Group.
When: 8 p.m. Oct. 5, 6 & 7. Walker Art Center, 725 Vineland Place, Mpls.
Tickets: $20-$40, 612-375-7600, walkerart.org.