Newspaper article International New York Times

Justin Peck's New Dance Kingdom ; with a Calm Hand, Choreographer Prepares for Debut of His 10th Ballet

Newspaper article International New York Times

Justin Peck's New Dance Kingdom ; with a Calm Hand, Choreographer Prepares for Debut of His 10th Ballet

Article excerpt

"The Most Incredible Thing," which debuts on Tuesday in New York, is the 10th ballet Mr. Peck has choreographed for the New York City ballet since he joined in 2007.

In a 19th-century stone castle in Yonkers, the ballet choreographer Justin Peck tried something he had never tried before: directing a film. He did not look nervous. Nor did he seem intimidated by his surroundings: the ornate, centuries-old furnishings from Europe; the travel trunks left in the attic by the Ballets Russes choreographer Michel Fokine, who lived and taught in the castle in the 1930s. Gently making suggestions or demonstrating what he had in mind, the 28-year-old Mr. Peck appeared self- assured. "If that doesn't work," he said at one point, "I have a Plan B."

Both the attitude and the preparedness behind it are characteristic. The film, shot in November, was a small side project, a trailer for "The Most Incredible Thing," Mr. Peck's new work for New York City Ballet, where he is resident choreographer and a soloist. If he were a more anxious person, this ballet, which will was set to have its debut at the David H. Koch Theater on Tuesday, could give him plenty to be anxious about. The cast of 56 dancers, including 11 children from the School of American Ballet, is more than twice as large as any he has handled before. And this is his first attempt at narrative -- the kind of story ballet that audiences are said to clamor for and that contemporary choreographers rarely succeed in delivering.

It's an important, perhaps inevitable, test for a choreographer who is now in extreme global demand. In April, San Francisco Ballet will present its first premiere by him. When Miami City Ballet visits New York that month, it will show off one of two Peck creations it has recently commissioned. In July, the august Paris Opera Ballet will add its imprimatur, performing its first Justin Peck premiere only a few months after performing his earlier "In Creases." New Peck, old Peck: Everyone seems to want a piece of Peck.

One work that many want is "Year of the Rabbit." (Miami City, Dutch National Ballet and Pacific Northwest Ballet will all perform it in the next few months.) That was the first piece of his that New York City Ballet performed in Manhattan, way back in 2012. Mr. Peck was still in the corps of City Ballet, which he joined in 2007. He has since been promoted, but it's his choreographic career that has raced at rabbit speed. "The Most Incredible Thing" is his 10th work for his home troupe.

As the numbers have mounted, so has the praise, the critical assessments that place him at the very top of ballet choreographers, with Christopher Wheeldon and Alexei Ratmansky. This may be the greatest pressure of all: high expectations.

"The Most Incredible Thing" takes its story from an 1870 fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. The music, however, is brand-new -- an orchestral score by Bryce Dessner, a genre-defying composer who is also a member of the indie rock band the National. The scenery and costumes -- by Marcel Dzama, an artist with his own hip associations -- are extravagant and fanciful. But there are no projections or special effects. The aim, Mr. Peck explained a few weeks ago, was to honor "the way ballets used to be made."

It seems telling that Mr. Peck, who has a significant following on Instagram and who has choreographed for an iPad app, has chosen a fable about the value of craftsmanship and the enduring power of art. Andersen's tale concerns a contest for the hand of the king's daughter and half the kingdom. The young man who wins is a creative type. The "most incredible thing" that he designs and builds is an extraordinary contraption, a clock of moving figures with a different assemblage for each hour: the four seasons at the stroke of four, the nine muses at the stroke of nine.

People have been suggesting stories to Mr. Peck for a while, he said: "This one stuck because it translates so well into dance. …

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