Justin Peck: A Choreography Role Model for the Millennial Generation

imageBeing a dancer takes sacrifice, while being a choreographer takes vulnerability.  The documentary “Ballet 422” explores the development of twenty-five year old Justin Peck’s ballet creation “Paz de La Jolla.”  In 2013, within two months, he set New York City Ballet’s 422nd creation to a musical composition from 1935 by Bohuslav Martinu.  The ballet featured three company elite principal dancers (Tiler Peck, Sterling Hyltin, and Amar Ramasar) along with a 15-member corps.  Peck explores a contemporary ballet style with constant fluidity and directional changes.  His style, movement quality, and confidence reminds me of Jerome Robbins’ work where he intertwines movement within a story while bringing the audience deeper into the musicality of the composition.  Peck uses every beat from the quick sound of the violins to the strong brass blows that brings the piece of music truly alive.  His attention to detail and specifics from hand placement to body angles for a lift shows his ability to create strong work like Balanchine.

Peck had a modest start in dance training in tap at age 9.  It wasn’t until he was 13 years old that he started training in Ballet after he saw an American Ballet Theater performance of “Giselle” that inspired him.  At 15, he moved to New York City to study at the School of American Ballet where he ultimately joined the New York City Ballet as an apprentice in 2006 at 18.  From there, Peck rose through the ranks.  In 2007, he became a member of the corps, and as he continued to choreograph and dance his career flourished, and in 2013 he received the title of soloist.

As a choreographer, Peck produced his first Ballet in 2008.  He found success in the Company’s Choreographic Institute.  In 2013, when the documentary was created, he was commissioned to create the only new Ballet of that year for the winter season at 25 years old.  Now at 28, Justin Peck is a soloist at the New York City Ballet and has become one of the most requested choreographers in the Ballet world.  In 2014, he was appointed Resident Choreographer of the NYCB; only the second person in the history of the NYCB’s 68 year institution to hold such a title.  Peck has choreographed 25 works for companies all over the world such as San Francisco Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Miami City Ballet, LA DanceProject, and the Paris Opera Ballet. His choreographic work – “Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes” was award in 2015 with a Bessie for outstanding production.  His focus for the work was about finding a balance between athletics and artistry.  It was primarily an all male cast with men partnering men. It explored that aspect of the men being the center of attention instead of the women, which was a refreshing view considering other Ballet casting structure.

The documentary “Ballet 422” brought the audience into a behind the scenes peek at a young choreographer as his career was beginning to explode.  Unlike most documentary, there was no interviews with any of the members of the production.  The viewer saw the the blood, sweat, and tears that went into “Paz de la Jolla” without verbal interjection.  Seeing Peck develop the work through movement studies in the studio alone as he sketched out formations and movement phrases showed that artists truly need time away from others to be creative.  Many artists are all about control, but Peck seemed to understand that it is important to let others interject in the creative process as it makes the work better as a whole from the costume designers to the dancers.  He seems to have an open forum for the people he works with that makes him approachable as the work is developed in a collaborative atmosphere.

Justin Peck is a forward thinker. Someone who thinks outside the box as a choreographer, dancer, and collaborator, which makes him push the boundaries as an artist.  Mikhail Baryshnikov said, “I found that dance, music, and literature is how I made sense of the world…it pushed me to think of things bigger than life’s daily routines…to think beyond what is immediate or convenient.”  Watching the end of the documentary as you see Peck walk away and preparing to dance after watching his piece on stage, I imagine that the wheels never stop turning for someone who is multi-talented from development to artistic you need consistent evolution.

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Tiler Peck – Destined to be a NYCB Ballerina

Tiler Peck’s story is like a movie. She is from Bakersfield, California and got her start dancing when she was young at her mother’s dance studio. Jazz technique was her favorite, but her mother encourage her to have a strong ballet base. At seven she began to take private classes with Bolshoi ballerina Alla Khaniashvili. Soon after, she began ballet classes in Santa Monica at Westside School of Ballet from former New York City Ballet (NYCB) principal Yvonne Mounsey and with other NYCB alum Colleen and Patricia Neary. She continued to do other performing arts activities such as acting and singing as a child, and with the help of her agent, Victoria Morris, Peck was also able to advance her career. Some of these career pushing activities included movies (I.e. Donny Darko, A Time for Dancing, and Geppetto), ballet performances such as Clara (en Pointe) in the the Radio City Spectacular at Universal Studios at ten, and Broadway in NYC at 11 in the revival of The Music Man. At thirteen her mentors, and NYCB alumni encouraged her to apply to the School of American Ballet. She was accepted and began her studies in NYC for two summers before moving to New York to study Ballet full-time. At New York City Ballet, one of the most prestigious ballet companies in the world, she moved up the ranks quickly. In 2004 she joined as an apprentice. In 2005 as apart of the corp. In 2006 she was promoted to soloist. Finally, in 2009 she was moved up to a principal where continues to be today.  (All date and background information found through Dance Magazine’s “The Magnetic Tiler Peck” by Astrida Woods)

Her artistry in her dancing is breathe taking. Peck loses herself on stage in a work and has developed a musicality that is revered. She makes every port de bra, every pirouette, and each arabesque look natural and unhurried. Her presence within pieces such as Christopher Wheeldon’s Carousal or the Romantic duet in Jerome Robbin’s Fancy Free is storytelling that can make any ballet hater want to go see another. Peck’s story isn’t all sunshine and roses. Just like any artist she has had successes as well as set backs. In 2007, at eighteen, she broke her back and was out for six months. That kind of injury, and that length of time being out can be career ending. The loss of technique, flexibility, and the competition of up and coming ballerinas can put many injured dancers at a crossroad where they need to retire. Peck persevered, healed, and became more flexible, a stronger dancer, and developed a thought process of potential plans after dancing.

In the performing arts world there has been exploration among artists who continue to push boundaries as not only an artist, but continue to develop new ways to increase revenue streams and become more of a public face. In music you see artists crossing genres like Taylor Swift going from Country to Pop or even switching performing art styles like Kiesza going from being a professional dancer to a singer. In dance, it’s becoming more prevalent for professional ballet dancers to do other activities outside of their company contract. In Peck’s case she recently had the lead role in a new musical performed at the Kennedy Center called Little Dancer as well as did a six week run on Broadway with On The Town. Peck isn’t the only one in the ballet world doing cross over work. Other artists such as Robert Fairchild (led of Wheeldon’s Broadway Musical An American in Paris) and Megan Fairchild (On The Town). It doesn’t stop there either. Just like musical acts, they are starting to cash in on branding, like Peck with Body Wrappers Apparel, Misty Copland with under armor, and Lauren Froderman with Gatorade.  These crossovers are exciting because Ballet and dance in general is becoming more popular in society and not just looked as an elite art form.

If you look at Peck story it seemed that she was destined to be at NYCB. Her story also gives you insight on how a successful Ballerina gets to the top and understanding that sacrifice as a child is where it starts. Peck didn’t have a normal life. She pushed boundaries by being involved in all walks of the performing arts, left home at a young age, and had developed an understanding that she is not going to be a ballerina forever. For now, I look forward to continuing to see her breath taking performances around the world, as well as being a role model for mini ballerinas to look to for strength, guidance, and an understanding of the dance world.

Below you will find Tiler Peck’s insight and dancing on Balanchine’s TSCHAIKOVSKY PAS DE DEUX

Male Ballet Dancers Get A Bad Rep

January 22nd was the birthday of famed choreographer and founder of New York City Ballet – George Balanchine.  So, in honor of this amazing man I decided to get a little confrontational on a statement he once said.  “The ballet is a purely female thing; it is a woman, a garden of beautiful flowers, and man is the gardener.”  Balanchine, you are one of my idols in the dance world, but I believe this statement is a bunch of crap.  What about Mikhail Baryshnikov, Ethan Stiefel, Angel Corella, Robert Fairchild, and Justin Peck.   Are they not flowers with their smooth transitions, their immaculate turning capabilities, and the power houses each one of them becomes in any allegro?  Male ballet dancers get a bad rap for either being the “prop” or the “support system” for the female lead.  What really steams me the most is when a male chauvinist feels the need to tell their child that ballet is for girls.

I recently got in an argument with an eight year old (I know real mature) about ballet.  He said, “my dad told me that ballet is for girls.”  Of course being a ballet teacher I told him that his father was wrong and that ballet is for boys and girls.  Needless to say this argument went back and forth for awhile and I pretty much felt like I was arguing with a drunk person.  So, instead of continuing the insanity of fighting, I told him that I would show him some male ballet dancers next week.  I brought in my laptop and pulled up videos of Ethan Stiefel and Angel Corella and this kid was totally blown away.  When his dad came to pick him up from Jazz/ Tap class that day he was telling him all about Ethan Stiefel and that both boys and girls do ballet.

Ballet is not only an art form, but it gives anyone the ability to strengthen every muscle in their body including some that you didn’t even know existed.  The strength a male dancer has to have to carry a 100 pound ballerina twisted up, over their head, across the stage and make it look like it was nothing is not an easy task.  The strength needed to jump feet off the ground without having a trampoline.  The power and control needed to turn multiple times and then stop on a dime with nothing but gravity fighting your every turn.  Dear human population, the next time you feel the need to tell your son that ballet is for girls maybe you should go talk to a football player or better yet watch a video of a male ballet dancer and try to replicate the grace and precision he has in one tiny finger.

Emma Watson is currently fighting for women equality in the world, but I’m fighting for male equality in ballet.  I want to live in a world where a boy is not bulled for his love of dance.  I want to live in a world where a father doesn’t feel that sports are more masculine then ballet.  And I want to live in a world where a boy is educated by his parents to know that ballet welcomes any gender.  Mr. Balanchine you have brought so much to America in the ballet world, but to say that ballet is a female thing and that the male is gardener of the flowers means that the males never get to be the flowers and they are just as much the flowers as the female soloist.