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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I See People – Principal Dancers That Have Accomplished the Dream

538f68a976ab7This past week Misty Copeland was promoted to principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre (ABT).  She probably would have been promoted back in 2012 if she wasn’t sidelined for the whole season due to six stress fractures in her tibia.  Needless to say, she was not the only promoted dancer this past week.  Stella Abrera, who joined ABT in 1996 became a principal, as well as two new dancers, Maria Kochetkova (San Francisco Ballet) and Alban Lendorf (Royal Danish Ballet) joined ABT as principals.  Did you know that at the beginning of June there were two new principals at the New York City Ballet – Lauren Lovette and Anthony Huxley?  Right now, all I see in the papers, on blogs and in magazines is that Misty Copeland is the first African-American principal at ABT.  My question is why is this about race?  Becoming a principal dancer no matter what race or ethnicity is an amazing accomplishment.  I believe that bringing race into it is only adding to the racism, segregation, and discrimination in the world.  Now, sit down, hear me out, and read till the end before you judge me.

Becoming a principal dancer is a dream.  A principal is the highest rank in a dance company that any dancer can receive.  These particular dancers not only perform solos regularly, but also are the main casting for pas de duex in the company.  It is a coveted position and is one that every dancer strives to be.  Becoming a professional dancer is no easy task.  It takes a lot of sacrifice that most people cannot even begin to comprehend.  In many stella-abrera-as-gamzatti-in-la-bayaderecases, students begin training at a young age and as they hit around ten to twelve years old it develops into an intense training.  Student dancers who are striving to reach a professional level usually become home schooled and then spend all their free time in a studio training, rehearsing, and practicing.  They sleep, eat, and breath dance.

With the dedication that students have to put into this one and a million chance dream there comes a lot of failure and risk.  The dancer doesn’t
always get the role they want,  they don’t always get hired by the company they want, or make the money they want, but humility, respect, and discipline are all the things a dancer gets because of these types of failures.  There is a respect for the art form, for their colleagues, and for choreographers that push them past their breaking point to make them better than they ever thought they could become.  Being a dancer there is a risk everyday.  You never know when your career is going to end.  A dancer could have a career ending injury, or a company could fold (i.e. Cedar Lake Ballet last month) and that could be it.

In this world, no matter what profession you are in, you need to prove your value and become invaluable.  Misty Copeland is an innovator.  She brought a spotlight to the ballet world through sponsorships, charity work, mentorships, and becoming a spokes person for the art form.  She has become a part of the public eye and ABT would have been crazy not to promote her.  Stella Abrera showed dedicated and determination to one company for over twenty years!  Lauren Lovette started dance as a late bloomer and she was rejected the first time she auditioned for the School of American Ballet (SAB).  Anthony Huxley has been with NYCB since 2007 and started in the SAB in 2002.  That’s thirteen years with a company starting as a child!

nycb-master675These talented, young, and thriving principal dancers have so much to offer the world, but all of this accomplishment has been shadowed by the issue of discrimination.  The definition of discrimination is the treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person based on the group, class, or category to which that person belongs rather than on individual merit.  This does not only include color, but there are other forms of discrimination out there like income, gender, or ethnicity.  My father had to sneak around to play with his friends as a child because of where he lived.  There are all types of discrimination out there.  The sooner we as a society stop looking at things such as color, ethnicity, income, and gender as a threat or out of fear, the sooner we as a society are going to grow and hirer the best people for the job.

Read more about the amazing Principal Dancers here – New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre

There is More to Ballet than Swan Lake & The Nutcracker

imageBeing a dancer, I am always curious about what ballets people have seen.  I usually get one of two answers – “We saw Swan Lake” or “We saw the Nutcracker.”  I am not knocking these two ballets because the Nutcracker is where a lot of ballet companies make over half of their revenue for the fiscal year, but there is more to ballet than Swan Lake and The Nutcracker.

Firstly, there are multiple versions of different types of ballets even the Nutcracker and Swan Lake have multiple versions where choreographers have reworked sections or took out certain parts and did a revamp of the piece.  For example, Swan Lake has been reworked in not only the ballet world, but in contemporary dance.  In 1995 at the Sadler’s Well Theatre in London, choreographer Matthew Bourne had all the traditional female parts danced by men.  At the New York City Ballet, George Balanchine turned Swan Lake into a one act version with a corps of black swans infusing the old story with a whole new heartbreak.  Finally, Swedish dancer/ choreographer Fredrik Rydman created a modern day version where the swans are heroin addicts and prostitutes who are controlled by a pimp.  If you are going to go to a classic check a version that can broaden your mind.

There are so many other ballets that have graced the world.  As anyone who has read my blog I am partial to the New York City Ballet, but like I am telling you to broaden your mind, I am going to spotlight other companies that have done great work.  There are old ballets from the depths of history going back to the late 18th century that companies have revive or are on rotation in there repertoire.  In the 2014/2015 season, American Ballet Theatre (ABT) had La Bayadère in rotation.  A ballet that was considered a classic in Russia, but it wasn’t until Rudolf Nureyev staged it for the Royal Ballet with Margot Fonteyn as Nikiya in 1963 that it really took hold in Western Europe or the United States.  Then again, how can you not like everything Margot Fonetyn is in?  She is considered one of the greatest classical ballerinas of all time.  I digress, La Bayadère is a love square that ultimately turns to hate, revenge, and murder.  Exciting right?  For those of you living or visiting France, this ballet is in the upcoming season of the Paris Opera Ballet.

If you have studied the history of dance, you know the Rite of Spring.  This ballet is pretty well known in the dance world as being a huge controversy.  It was scandal back in the day, and now is considered one of the greatest ballets and mysteries in the world.  There are pieces of the ballet that were never archived.  Pages missing of the choreography.  Pages that other choreographers have interpreted based on the rest of the piece.  Stravinsky’s musical score and Nijinsky’s choreography started a near riot in the audience in 1913.  But Isn’t that what art is suppose to do?  It’s suppose to invoke some kind of feeling?  Whether it’s comedic, like in La Fille Mal Gardée or just breathing in the beauty like in a story-less Jewels.

It’s not just the stories or the choreography that invokes those feelings; it is the dancers.  The dancers brings the audience into their world; into their circle.  When you are watching ballet, a great dancer will leave you in tear and breathless at the end whether you are suppose to be or not.  Remember you don’t have to have a clue what a ballet is about.  All you need to do is open you eyes and let each dancer in. Don’t be afraid to take a jump and see something other than Swan Lake or The Nutcracker – the dancers will surprise, inspire, and invoke something in you that you never thought possible.

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

Lauren Lovette – The Next Prima Ballerina?

Lauren Lovette has been raising star at the New York City Ballet (NYCB) since 2009.  Lovette has the impidiemy of the Balenchine ballerina body, with legs for days, long arms, and tiny torso frame that gives her that perfect look for any dancer on stage.  She started dancing at 11 years old which is late for any dancer, let alone a dancer that has become a professional with one of the best dance companies in the world.  She started her training at the School of American Ballet at 14 years old, an apprentice at NYCB at 18, which soon followed by a corps contract, and now she is a soloist (background on Lovette found at Dance Spirit Magazine Article by Margaret Fuhrer)

Even through she has the perfect body for the ballets at NYCB, she also has an effortless quality about her when she is dancing on stage.  Having a dance background, the first thing I look at are a dancer’s feet.  I am usually mesmerize by their feet that I never look up at their face.  There are only a select few ballerinas where I am fully focused on facial expressions, leg work, and grace within their upper body, and Lovette has that power.

Last year (2014) at the Vail International Dance Festival she danced excepts of ‘Giselle’ with NYCB male soloist Chase Finely.  My entire attention was on Lovette, from the adagio where her arms floated like an extension of her dress as they extended with each lift and arabesque, to the ever so tilt of her head as the excerpt led into a petite allegro with quick changements, passés, and littles jumps that glided across stage like a gazelle.  She has this power that brings you into the dance and makes the audience members live with her in that moment including every feeling – love, anger, hurt, adoration, happiness, and sadness.

In my opinion, being a ballerina is one of the most difficult professions.  There has to be not only a love of dance, but a full dedication and willingness to sacrifice.  By sacrifice I mean giving up your adolescent social life to spend time in the studio practicing and rehearsing, to being dedicated as an adult by being willing to live from contract to contract, as well as working multiple jobs till you get your big break.  Incompassing all of this you need to keep your body in perfect health by eating the right foods, cross training in coordination to eight hours worth of rehearsals, and getting the proper amount of rest.

Lovette is one of the many ballerina that NYCB has helped to develop, but when she is on stage she has light that makes her standout.  Now that she has concurred Juliet this year (February 2015), I hope to see her dance Odiet in the near future as her light continues to rise at NYCB.