Q&A with Justin Peck: A Ballet for Beyonce, and Other Musings

 


New York City Ballet’s choreographer Justin Peck. (Photo by Yana Paskova/For The Washington Post)

Justin Peck has lots of ideas. At 26, the soloist with New York City Ballet has a skyrocketing career as a choreographer. He’s made half a dozen works for City Ballet, which performs the Washington premiere of his “Year of the Rabbit” at the Kennedy Center April 2-3. But that’s surely not the last we’ll see of Peck’s dances. His calendar is booked through 2016 with more commissions. So who knows? Maybe some of what we spoke about one afternoon in New York will show up onstage . . .

Say Beyonce asks you to be her choreographer. What will you do for her?

Probably have her move in a much more visceral way. If you look at her body in ballet terms, it’s sort of idiosyncratic, so I’d figure out a way to create an original piece on her, using how she moves. I mean, she’s an amazing performer and an amazing mover. Maybe I’d put her in something that isn’t set to her own music, either someone she admires or maybe even some completely different genre of music. I think that could be really exciting. And I’d present it somewhere different, like a theater setting, like BAM [the Brooklyn Academy of Music].

If you could stage the Super Bowl half-time show, how would you top Beyonce?

Okay, let’s figure out a way to integrate the performance into the stadium section, and not have it just focused on the field. How to expand it outward.

 A big version of the wave?

Something even more intricate and developed than that. And I’d see how to shoot it from above, from a bird’s eye view. I love seeing New York City Ballet from the fourth ring, just seeing the architecture of how these bodies move from above. And so why not create the most expansive half-time show ever, that’s shot from above and involving thousands of people? It could be the biggest performance ever!

What’s the one thing about ballet you want to change?

I think that story ballets, as great as they might sell, they’re a really dated and awkward medium to tell stories through. I think there needs to be an updated or different approach to storytelling in dance. There needs to be less of a separation between the storytelling and the dancing.

So you are so over “The Sleeping Beauty.”

Yeah, I don’t ever want to see that. I’m not interested in seeing the Petipa version of that. When I put on my consumer hat and I’m buying tickets to be entertained, I’m not interested in seeing, like, “Don Quixote.” Unless someone really spectacular is dancing.

Someone wants to write you a blank check. What’s your dream ballet?

The idea of having a narrative guiding the viewer through and grasping their attention is a really compelling thing. So let’s do a brand-new story that works well for dance, and commission new music, new sets. Have it be a big production. Hire someone to write the libretto. Put a lot of care into it. Even take the time to workshop a lot of it. I’d take an approach that plays or Broadway musicals take, where there can be many phases of development for it, so it’s not rushed.

Would there be a fabulous role for yourself in it?

No, but I do have fantasies that one of the dancers in the corps of “Year of the Rabbit” gets injured and I’ll have to do it. [Laughs, a lot.] But that kind of terrifies me, because I know the piece well but I don’t know what it feels like to do it or the spacing. So it’d be a mess.

READ MORE:

Justin Peck: New York City Ballet’s newest choreographic phenomenon

Read more from Style.

 

Sarah Kaufman received the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism and has been The Washington Post's dance critic since 1996. But after logging serious sit-time in opera houses, church basements, fairground tents and lawn chairs, what moves her most is seeing grace happen where she least expects it.
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