Tiler Peck Artists at the Center Review
March 4, 2022 | New York City Center – New York, NY, USA
On March 4, 2022, Tiler Peck premiered the first inaugural Artists at the Center: a new program sponsored by City Center designed to give artists at the top of their careers a role in the director’s seat to produce and curate their own program.
Peck, 33, a regular performer at City Center as well as a principal dancer with New York City Ballet, brought a mixed bill of four world premieres where she played a role as a dancer, choreographer, producer, and even costume designer.
The top-of-her-career ballerina included artists from across New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theater, So You Think You Can Dance, Broadway Dance Center, and other freelance artists in the program. Each performer Peck selected to join her in their own right stand out as a shining star in their own environment, so altogether it presented a dream casting and a performing force to be reckoned with.
Peck brought a diversity of genres of dance and style to her original works, although without hesitation, Time Spell was the most inspired.
The entire ballet – described by the dancers as “subdivisions of time and space, intersections of isolation and community, longing and joy,” – brought ballerinas, tap dancers, break dancing, and live music all to the same stage.
While there does seem to be a “tap dance with ballet” fad sweeping New York City stages, this complete masterpiece credited to Michelle Dorrance, Jillian Myers, and Tiler Peck in collaboration and improvisation by the dancers held the audience entirely captivated from before the curtain even rose.
Placed third on the bill, audiences were still stirring in their seats with the lights up from a brief pause when a loud scratching sound was amplified on the speakers. Audience members were instantly engaged and placed in wonder with one man even asking aloud, “Is that a dog?” when the curtain rose to reveal a solo tap dancer.
Two vocalists – Aaron Marcellus and Penelope Wendtlandt – entered the stage and began vocalizing beats to the tapper. Slowly, it became evident to the audience that the concept of the ballet was that the singers were mixing music live on stage to sync with the percussive tap beats.
Despite so many dance genres and styles colliding, the ballet was assembled cohesively and flowed effortlessly. The spectacular, energetic, and thrilling movement took audiences on an experience of pure joy and revelry.
A wooden tap plank sliding on and off the stage, the musicians moving across the stage with the dancers, and sly costume changes slowly bringing the color tone from muted neutrals to bold primary tones helped bring the diverse “sections” of the ballet together in a logical and cohesive manner.
Even with all of the performers coming from different backgrounds, it was absolutely electrifying to see how intensely they all engaged with each other. The piece culminated in a group dance at the finale, where the ballet dancers tapped on pointe and riffed off of the tap ensemble’s movements.
Time Spell was an absolute hit with the audience, as it took no time at all for the entire crowd to stand for the dancers’ bows congratulating them on an impassioned and soul-stirring world premiere.
Other world premieres on the bill included Thousandth Orange, Swift Arrow, and The Barre Project, Blake Works II.
The program opened with Thousandth Orange, a neoclassical ballet sextet choreographed by Peck and performed alongside a live string quartet. In an effortless stream of movement, dancers from City Ballet and Ballet Theatre floated in and out of various vignettes, duets, and trios wearing basic pastel color leotards.
The brief and refreshing sextet was followed by Swift Arrow, a New York premiere of a duet for Peck and City Ballet’s Roman Mejia by Alonzo King. The duet passed intense and darting solo movement back and forth as a live pianist played to an electronic recording. This duet had a far more vigorous texture than its precedent but matched Peck’s signature movement style well. Mejia particularly stood out with his powerful and controlled turns.
The inaugural Artists at the Center program concluded with The Barre Project, Blake Works II, choreographed by William Forsythe and including costumes from Peck’s Body Wrappers line.
This ballet had classical movement set to loud house music and included many solos holding onto a ballet barre and a film of hands touching the barre which interrupted the flow of the choreography.
The concept felt forced and the “ballet to pop music” concept felt forced; however, a highlight was the three male dancers’ exceptional technique. Mejia, So You Think You Can Dance’s Lex Ishimoto, and guest artist Brooklyn Mack effortlessly passed through a series of technically demanding jumps and turns.
Overall, the program was delightfully engaging, but Time Spell far surpassed any other performance I’ve seen on City Center’s stage for a long time. The energy from those performers goes simply unrivaled, and I hope to see a reprise of that ballet for a longer run on more New York stages in the future. It’s an exceptional creation that deserves to be seen over and over again!
Featured Photo for this review of Tiler Peck Artists at the Center of Peck in William Forsythe’s Barre Project. Photo by Geovanny Santillan and CLI Studios.
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