Ballerina Tiler Peck curated a wonderful evening of dance in BalletNow.
I was fortunate to review and enjoy the first BalletNow program on July of 2015 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion presented by Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center. Curated by ballet superstars Roberto Bolle and Hernan Cornejo, the program was focused on showcasing dancers and works from Europe and Latin America with a mix of contemporary dance and classical ballet.
The second installment of the BalletNow project made its debut on Friday, July 28, at the same venue, but this time with New York City Ballet’s (NYCB) principal dancer Tiler Peck, a female ballerina in charge of putting together the three separate programs that will continue through 2 p.m. Sunday.
Peck is not only one the world’s best and versatile ballet dancers, but she is a native of Southern California. Born in Bakersfield on Jan. 12, 1989, she began studying ballet at the age of 2 at her mother’s ballet studio, subsequently attending the prestigious Westside School of Ballet in Santa Monica. Adding to this unique scenario is the fact that Peck debuts her dancing curatorial art on an L.A. stage for the first time since joining NYCB in 2004 as an apprentice (She was later was promoted to a soloist in December 2006 and finally a principal dancer in 2009.).
The premise for these three mixed programs, according to Peck, is “to highlight the versatility and athleticism of today’s ballet dancers including pieces that pair classical dancers with their contemporaries in other dance genres.”
Beginning with the percussion driven piece “1-2-3-4-5-6,” Peck was joined on stage by MacArthur fellow and virtuoso tap dancer/choreographer/director Michelle Dorrance, hip-hop dancer Lil “O” and NYCB principal dancer Daniel Ulbricht. Starting with Dorrance clapping and stomping on a mini tap dance floor (with adjacent small microphones that expanded the sound via speakers at the rear of the audience), the piece highlighted how the beats she was creating could be transposed to other dance genres. Representing the ballet world was Peck and Ulbricht showcasing their lightning fast spins and timing punctuation around the small wood floor, while Lil “O” showed how street dancing has similar connections as he glided across the stage exhibiting some cool hip-hop moves.
Second on the program was “Chutes and Ladders” by NYCB based choreographer Justin Peck (no relation) with music “String Quarte No. 1” by Benjamin Britten featuring Cuban-American ballerina Jeanette Delgado and Brazilian dancer Kleber Rebello, both coming from Miami City Ballet. Although the wonderful LA Opera orchestra was ready in the pit, the piece called for four string players to be placed on the right side of the stage on an elevated platform as the pas de deux was performed center stage. The soft and delicate music coincided with the elegant and romantic choreography, which sometimes had abstract and architectural elements in the arm movements and timing. The powerful lifts by Rebello and beautiful lines by Delgado became faster and more complex towards the second half of the performance.
The always pleasing classic “Pas de Deux from Romeo and Juliet” (balcony scene) with music by iconic Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev and choreography by Kenneth MacMillan was handed over to American Ballet Theater (ABT) principal dancers, Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside. Even though both are superb dancers and the music glorious, I felt a bit disappointed in the staging of the piece and the rather exhausted look on the dancers towards the end of the performance.
From British-born choreographer Christopher Wheeldon came the “Pas de Deux from After the Rain” (2005), a lovely, modern, very slow and moving piece emphasizing the relationship between a man and a woman. The male role was danced by the hugely talented and very tall Scottish dancer Reece Clarke in pair with the beautiful and the supple British ballerina Lauren Cuthbertson, both principal dancers from the Royal Ballet in London. Through some simple, slow, but very elegant movements Wheeldon conveyed a lot of emotion, while the strong, beautiful and expressive lines of the dancers emphasized the human condition even further.
Finishing the first half of the program was the iconic “Allegro Brillante” by the master of modern ballet, choreographer George Balanchine. An ensemble piece, it featured Peck and Brazilian Marcelo Gomes, who is not only a ballet superstar currently dancing with ABT, but he was the first out LGBTQ male ballet dancer when he “came out” in the pages of LGBTQ magazine The Advocate in 2003.
I’ve been fortunate throughout the past 15 years to have seen Gomes dance multiple times in Los Angeles and Orange County with ABT and recently at the Hollywood Bowl partnered with African-American ballerina Misty Copeland and Gustavo Dudamel conducting the LA Phil. While I have admired his talent and passion such as in his interpretation of Othello in the ballet of the same name, Peck on the other hand had been a mystery to me, but she was about to change that.
In this dance performance, Peck was a whirlwind of speed and talent as she and Gomes tore out the dance floor with energy and pure magic. The rest of the ensemble made for a fine context, although some were at times a bit off the timing and lines.
After intermission, came the longest and some might say the pièce de résistance of the entire evening when “Fancy Free” by American choreographer Jerome Robbins was faithfully staged. Even though the premiere took place in 1944, this work still maintained its freshness and most importantly the humor that makes this piece so irresistible to audiences.
As the three sailors on shore leave and hitting the town, dancers Daniel Cory Stearns, Marcelo Gomes and Daniel Ulbricht (all ABT principal dancers) proved to be the perfect trio in descending height but equal in talent. All three want to get laid and are hitting up on any eligible ladies in town, including the short but sweet appearances by Peck and Delgado as their “love” interests. The tall Stearns was the Don Juan of the trio and was impeccable in his acting and partnering with Peck, while Gomes provided some humorous hip/butt movements in a hilarious segment where he showed the others how real dancing should be done with the help of his invisible female partner. Ulbricht, the shortest of the three was a powerhouse of energy as he spun like a top in addition to performing unbelievable jumps and splits that left all in the audience in awe.
There is an old phrase “local boy/girl makes good,” which refers to a community’s pride in the accomplishment of one of their own who has left and has made a name for themselves on the world’s stage. After watching the second installment of BalletNow curated by Tiler Peck, one has to definitely apply that label to this multi-faceted artist, who not only can dance like an angel but can also create a memorable evening for audiences.
BalletNow is staged Sunday, July 30, at 2 p.m. at the Music Center. For tickets and more information, visit musiccenter.org/balletnow.