“New York sees everything,” admits New York City Ballet (NYCB) principal Tiler Peck.
So when she was tasked with curating and directing a program as part of her duties as City Center’s first-ever Artist at the Center—a new series designed to offer artists their own producing platform—Peck went out of her way to choose works that would be new to New York City audiences: “... as opposed to doing another Tchaikovsky pas de deux, which I love to dance, but can be seen doing regularly at NYCB.”
As a result, audiences will see a new side of Peck, not just as a dancer but also as a choreographer. At first, Peck was reluctant to show her work in New York City for the first time, especially alongside luminaries like William Forsythe and Alonzo King, whose pieces are on the program in addition to a world-premiere collaboration with tap dance artist Michelle Dorrance and Jillian Meyers. A nudge from Mikhail Baryshnikov was what ultimately made Peck decide to include her own Thousandth Orange. “He was the one who said, ‘I really think one of your works should go—it’s your evening,’” she says. “And obviously I take what he has to say very seriously.”
We spoke to Peck about why Thousandth Orange is particularly special to her and what stories are behind the other pieces in the evening.
What was your approach to curating this program?
I wanted to give people something they have never seen before. During the pandemic, I did The Barre Project with Bill Forsythe. It had been a dream of mine to work with him but our schedules could never align. And during the pandemic, I realized it could actually be a possibility. The fact that we created a work that I am so proud of … during a pandemic … over Zoom ... is crazy. I really feel like New York needs to see it, and it’s never been performed live. So to me, that was kind of the centerpiece of what I wanted the program to be.
There’s also a new commission by my great friend Michelle Dorrance. I’ve known Michelle since I was 17, and we’ve been really close ever since.
Since this is my evening, I want to share my perspective and highlight people who I have been really inspired by. And in planning the project with Michelle, we decided to ask the LA-based dancer Jillian Meyers to join us as a co-choreographer.
How did the Alonzo King piece come about?
Bill was actually talking to me about Alonzo and how much he respected his work. And Bill and I had gotten very close; we spent like, four hours a day together for two or three months. It’s like I was getting a private lesson on dancing and choreographing and everything with William Forsythe every single day. A dream come true!
So I went to San Francisco and Alonzo asked me, “What do you want me to make for you?” I said, “People always make fast things for me. I’d really like to have something really slow and beautiful.” So Alonzo made me a pas de deux and a solo. It’s funny, the pas de deux was slow, but he was like “… there’s gonna be a little fast section before.” So there’s a powerhouse first part, and then we’re exhausted and we start the duet.
Your piece Thousandth Orange is a bit older—what was the process for that one?
That one I choreographed at Vail Dance Festival in 2018. It means a lot to me because I was injured and I couldn’t move—I had a really serious neck injury. I was surprised at how much I ended up liking it. I think the reason why it still worked is the music: If I’m in love with the music, it comes out pretty easily, and I love Caroline Shaw’s music. And I had to focus more on the bodies in front of me, which I found really interesting because normally when I choreograph, I’m choreographing on myself. And then I have to try and set it on a dancer and they don’t ever move the same way. So in this ballet it was really specific to each dancer; I was really leaning on their body, because I couldn’t do it myself. It is the memory of that time, how scary it was, and how much I was able to rely on my dancers that makes it very powerful for me. I hope that New York audiences enjoy it.
Lauren Wingenroth is a New York City-based writer.
Artists at the Center | Tiler Peck runs March 4–6.