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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Amy Winehouse – Another Lost Legend

Asif Kapadia, the director of the released documentary Amy stated, “She was the unlucky one to be having a nervous breakdown in the public eye.” Amy Winehouse was a singer all to similar to Kurt Cobain.  An artist in her own right that wasn’t ready for celebrity.  The scrutiny, judgement, and overbearing view of the press and the general public.  She was always a punchline to a joke, and instead of showing support and love with her struggles and misfortune society laughed.  Her drug abuse, alcohol addiction, and bulimia was pushed off as self sabotage when it was a cry for help.  A cry for help that started when she was young.

Her mother couldn’t control her bad behavior and instead of doing something about it, Janis Winehouse never said no, and never disciplined.  Her father, Mitch Winehouse left when Amy was nine years old.  After his disappearing act she became promiscuous, skipping school, and got into drugs and smoking.  She felt that no one cared, so why should she care either.  It seemed that her friends became her family.  Lauren Gilbert, Juliette Ashby, and Nick Shymansky became the people that would do their best to protect her, make the right choices, and they were the ones who tried to get her to go to rehab before the alcohol and drugs got worse in the height of her success; unfortunately they failed.

In the film, it showed that Amy was her own worse critic. She made the statement, “I’m not a natural born performer. I’m a natural singer, but I’m really quite, shy really.”  She grew up idolizing great jazz singers such as Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra. Artists who come along once in a lifetime, and become classic greats in the history of music.  When Amy released the album Back to Black she made it in that history book.  She had an edge and honesty in the album that could relate to people.  The hit single “Rehab” made her a superstar and celebrity, which in her state of being with the alcohol, drugs, and self-conscientiousness would be her down fall.  The album is full of sadness, heartbreak, and regret.  In “Love Is A Losing Game” the lyrics express falling in love being a series of mistakes:

“One I wish I never played
Oh what a mess we made
And now the final frame
Love is a losing game”

The song “Back to Black” is one of my favorite on the album as her deep, raspy voice flows over the lyrics and melody just like Frank Sinatra’s style way of carrying the audience over the emotion of every word she breathes.  She loved being in the studio – developing new songs, playing instruments, and learning and honing everything about her craft as a singer and musician.  The song “Back to Black” was more than just about losing her lover.  It was seemed to foreshadow her fate.  She sings:

“You went back to what you knew
So far removed from all that we went through
And I tread a troubled track
My odds are stacked
I’ll go back to black”

One of the final scenes in the movie that really stuck with me was when she was watching a video of herself singing with her bodyguard Andrew Morris.  Andrew said that during that time Amy said, “I would give it back, if I could walk down the street.”  Those few words expressed what really mattered to her.  Being normal.  Not living in a fish bowl.  Her life ended tragically by a drug overdose and I still don’t think society has learned anything from the loss of artists like Amy.  For them to continue to create the music we love, they need respect.  Personally, the paparazzi and the people trying to make a buck by making artists sign objects doesn’t show any of kind of respect.  The best you can do for an artist is show your support by going to concerts, posting their music and videos to social media, as well as continuing to listen and be a fan of their work.

Film Review: First Position

FirstPositionThe Youth American Grand Prix is the world’s largest ballet competition that awards full scholarships and job contracts to dancers ages 9-19. Each year over 5,000 dancers enter the Youth American Grand Prix semi-finals held in 15 cities around the world. Only a few hundred dancers make it to the finals in New York City. On the final day at the end of the competition 30 elite Ballet institutions awards scholarships, contracts, and medals to the most promising dancers.

Now, I know I am a little late joining the party since this film came out in 2012 but, First Position shows the dedication, determination, and pressures that young dancers face during their training. This documentary follows six dancers on their journey to the Youth American Grand Prix and some them have technique and talent that I have never seen at such a young age. Aran, 11, is by far my favorite in this documentary. He is a military kid who travels two hours to Rome, Italy for the best Ballet training at La Masion de la Danse. Being a boy, he faces the pressures of society and his peers with being a male Ballet dancer. He has coped with it by ignoring it because Ballet is something that he loves. The stereotype that Aran continues to fight doesn’t surprise me because most boys who get teased for it drop out of ballet by Jr. High School. Miko, 12 & Rebecca, 17 talks about how there friends don’t understand the disciple that is needed to be a ballet dancer. Besides going to school they have cross training, many dance classes, and rehearsals everyday to stay in peak performance form. Joan, 16 moved away from his family from Colombia to New York City to train and didn’t know the language at first.

The amount of sacrifice these children have for the love of dance is something to admire. Few people find their calling in life and even fewer people are willing to do what is necessary to reach success. Miko switched to home-schooling so she could spend more time at the studio. Micheala, 14 was suffering an inflammation of tendentious in her Achilles heel during the finals of the Prix. These kids are not the only ones who have to put in a tremendous amount of effort, the parents have to be just as supportive and dedicated as the students. The parents assist with costumes being dyed, created, and purchased. They pay for the lessons, private coaching, and transportation to and from the studios. And they are the rock when there is a mess up on stage and all you want to do is have a pity party and beat yourself up. I think Miko’s mother said it best, “When bad things happen on stage that is my fault, when good things happen that is all her.”

The documentary shows how a student’s dance that they have practice a hundred times can not go as well on stage as it did in the studio. Falls, stage fright, or a mis-step can throw off your whole piece and can take you out of the running for recognition. Then you have to start back at square one; proving yourself. Everyone that isn’t a dancer is probably asking themselves why do these kids put themselves through this? It’s hard to explain, but I best thought process is have you ever wanted something so bad that you would do anything to get it? That’s these kids. I don’t want to spoil anything so if you want to see what happens to the ballet journey of Miko, Rebecca, Michaela, Joan, and Aran I suggest you watch First Position. This documentary takes you backstage into a world of strength, heartbreak, and dedication of kids who are beyond their years.

Watch the documentary now on Netflix.  Click Here for the trailer.