a bold statement

There is something that has been on my mind, but I’ve been too timid to declare it. It’s not exactly revolutionary, revealing, or remarkable, but in the interest of documenting my thoughts, it must be stated (and adequately mused on, let’s be real) here.

Justin Peck and Sufjan Stevens are the modern George Balanchine and Igor Stravinsky.

There, I said it. In big letters, too. Okay, okay, before you go and roll your eyes and point out all of the differences in style and situational relationships, hear me out. I don’t mean to say that these choreographer/composer relationships are identical, but simply that Peck and Stevens’ partnership excites me in a similar way I could imagine a 25-year-old bunhead living in the mid-20th century would be excited by that of the late great(s) Balanchine and Stravinsky. I should add one last post-pre-text disclaimer to this preface and state that these are all very personal opinions of mine. Bear with me…


New York City Ballet in George Balanchine’s Serenade, source unknown.


New York City Ballet in Justin Peck’s  Year of The Rabbit, photo by Paul Kolnik.

One of Peck’s first choreographic endeavors at NYCB resulted in his Year of The Rabbit, an iconic piece set to Sufjan Stevens’ 2001 electronica album Enjoy Your Rabbit. One of Balanchine’s earliest works, Apollo, also marked his first collaboration with classically alternative composer Igor Stravinsky.

Stevens and Stravinsky share more than the double consonant start to their last names. Stravinsky made a name for himself as a musical revolutionary by changing the way people saw rhythmic design. Similarly, Stevens is known for his irregular time signatures and variation of genre and style.

There are endless parallels to be drawn between the two choreographers as well. Peck and Balanchine share a propensity to utilize the corps de ballet, emphasizing the strength of a body of dancers and creating architecture on stage. The two use a similar vocabulary and technique, pushing dancers to extend their limbs fully and consume the stage. I think the most essential comparison, though, is that both Peck and Balanchine are of the moment; well, of their moment.

For Balanchine, “of the moment” changed from the sweeping romanticism of Serenade in the ’30s to the paired down black and whites in the ’40s to ’50s Americana with Western Symphony, Square Dance, and Stars and StripesJustin Peck’s moment is this one, and he is certainly taking hold of it. His ballets seem to always be just what the audience doesn’t know they need. In 2014, Peck’s lively Everywhere We Go set to an original cinematic score by Sufjan Stevens marked the next major collaboration between the two artists, awaking even New York audiences with it’s contagious energy. In 2015, Peck paired up with street artist Shepard Fairy to create Heatscape for The Miami City Ballet, using the city’s colorful backdrop to weave culture into the ballet. Just last year, Peck and Stevens worked together yet again to create In The Countenance of Kings at San Francisco Ballet. Though all I’ve seen of it is the video below (at least 12 times, mind you) it’s already one of the best pieces of music and choreography I have ever experienced.

So when I hear Justin Peck and Sufjan Stevens are at it again, their newest collaborative work The Decalogue premiering in just a week, I can’t help but imagine myself several generations back, giddy over the news of a new Balanchine/Stravinsky ballet.

In his February interview with the Chicago Tribune, Peck mused on the importance of relationships between choreographers and living artists:

“What’s always interested me the most about ballet is it’s this great opportunity for many different artistic mediums to come together to create a cohesive experience,” Peck said. “I think the future of ballet, as I would see it, is to continue the conversation between all these different worlds and have ballet be the platform for these different conversations. … That for me is what makes it so exciting and universal. There’s something for everyone to get out of it. I think the art form starts to fade when we forget that.”


this is where you belong


One of my favorite artists, Sufjan Stevens, recently released a new album (which I wasted no time in downloading), and it’s got me all kinds of inspired.  If you’re unfamiliar with Stevens, first click this link to my all-time favorite song, and listen along while I give you a bit of background on the man, the myth, the legend… Continue reading

big screen ballet


The past two Sundays have ironically both involved a cinematic ballet experience of some kind, with a trek up to Cambridge to see Ballet 422 last weekend and a drive to East Greenwich yesterday for a screening of The Bolshoi’s Romeo & Juliet.  The two shows were vastly different, save their only similarities seated in the audience: a combination of bunheads and bald heads…my kinda crowd.

Following New York City Ballet corps member and resident choreographer, Justin Peck, Jody Lee Lipes’ Ballet 422 offers up an impressive array of balletic athleticism and choreographic innovation, wrought with a generous supply of stylish #BTS shots.  Mr. Peck, at the tender age of 25, exudes professionalism and creative depth beyond his years, and the entire company (especially featured principal, Tiler Peck) demonstrates a skill level and quickness of movement that only the NYCB can deliver.  Of course it suits that these inspired minds belong to NYCB, a company founded on choreographic liberation and the freedom to create entirely new movement.  An artistic peek into the modern world of ballet, the film provides a backstage guide to the choreographic, rehearsal, staging and performance process of a world premiere at the historic Koch theatre.  I truly enjoyed seeing the magnificent costume department and the care that goes into each garment, as well as the showcase of talented orchestral musicians and powerful NYCB dancers, but without any real narration or interviews to speak of, Magnolia Pictures may want to consider renaming the film Justin Peck Relaxes Face While Thinking.*

The Bolshoi’s R&J on the big screen could not have been more opposite; One of the world’s oldest companies performing one of literature’s oldest tragedies in ballet’s most traditionally classic choreographic style.  In three words, it. was. dramatic.  Of course, drama is to be expected from a famously grim love story in which so many crucial characters suffer an untimely death**, but there’s something about this particular rendition that seemed just a bit over the top to me.  Maybe it was Tybalt’s refusal to die without a lingering (re: dragging) “death dance” for the books, but that’s probably just my impatient millennial mind at work there.  Gorgeous in its classicism, but predictable by nature, this show separates the diehard traditionalists from those of us who chuckled when Lady Capulet practically dislocated her shoulder tossing herself onto her nephew’s dead body about fifteen times (Mom, I’m looking at you!).

So, have any of you seen either production?  What did you think?

*Spoiler Alert: Justin Peck’s “deep in thought” face comprises 90% of the film.

**Yet another spoiler, everyone dies.  Sorry for giving away the ending, guys.

photo via