Being 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.