The climax of the Instruments of Dance contemporary program will be the Australian premiere of Justin Peck’s Everywhere We Go.
21 Sep 2022
Peck is a rarity in the dance world: one of a small handful of top-flight choreographers who have chosen classical ballet as a vehicle for innovation. At the age of just 35, he is both the artistic advisor and resident choreographer of New York City Ballet, and has made over 50 works.
Peck grew up in California, but he was born in New York, and moved back to the city at the age of 15 to study dance at the School of American Ballet, which is attached to New York City Ballet. He joined the company in 2007, and rose to the rank of soloist. When he started choreographing, he made the unusual decision to keep on dancing, occasionally even appearing in his own works (he eventually retired, but not until 2019). This gives his ballets for NYCB an extra charge: the dancers are his friends and colleagues, they know him and trust him and give him every ounce of their energy. The NYCB ballerina Sterling Hyltin says, of his complex and sometimes explosive pas de deux choreography, “It really helps that Justin Peck himself is a wonderful partner.”
Apart from the touches of modern idiom that Peck introduces into his works – he often has dancers wear sneakers, and there are moves that recall street dance – what makes his work feels so fresh is his outward-looking urge to collaborate beyond the tight circle of the classical world. He seeks out visual artists and fashion designers and filmmakers and indie musicians; he makes dance for commercials and Broadway (he won a Tony for his choreography for the 2018 revival of Carousel, and recently made new choreography for Steven Spielberg’s film of West Side Story, reimagining the famous dances by Jerome Robbins, one of his heroes.)
Over several collaborations with the singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens, he has built one of his most significant creative partnerships. When he first contacted Stevens in 2012 about using his music for an early work, Year of the Rabbit, Stevens was dismissive. He didn’t think much of ballet; he says, “I didn’t understand it.” Peck took him to see Agon, one of George Balanchine’s greatest works, and he changed his mind. In 2014, he composed the score for Everywhere We Go. The premiere at New York City Ballet was a rip-roaring success, and after it Peck was made the company’s resident choreographer. He is only the second person to hold this title, after Christopher Wheeldon.
Everywhere We Go is big and energetic and exhilarating. It shows off Peck’s skill with large ensembles: as the New Yorker critic Joan Acocella says, “Mother Nature does not know more patterns than Justin Peck does: circles and spirals and triangles and grids and arrows and rickrack and pearls on a string.” Andrew Veyette, one of the dancers who worked on its creation, says that one moment in it reminds him of “a huge machine with pistons going off all over the place.”
In an interview for Vogue Australia, Peck says, “I’m thrilled to have The Australian Ballet dance Everywhere We Go, which is the first time it’s been danced outside of New York City Ballet. I feel like I’ve always been very precious about this work: it’s a very personal work to me, and it’s a work I’m really proud of. It’s the work that cemented my role as resident choreographer at NYCB. I’ve held on tight to it for a long time.”
Now, at last, Australian audiences will get to see why the world has gone crazy for Justin Peck – and why Everywhere We Go is, as Artistic Director David Hallberg says, his “magnum opus”.