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The talented Justin Peck choreographers his third dance for New York City Ballet: Paz de La Jolla, which is inspired by Southern California and features costumes by Reid Barthelme. Still a member of New York City Ballet's corps de ballet, Justin Peck presents a new work featuring 18 dancers, including Tiler Peck, Amar Ramasar and Sterling Hyltin. The season also includes his hit Year of the Rabbit.
In ballet, it’s best to go with the flow. When Peter Martins realized that the score for his new ballet wouldn’t be completed in time for its New York City Ballet premiere, he called Justin Peck into his office and asked him if he had any ideas for a new ballet. He did. Peck, just 25 and a member of the corps de ballet, has made a choreographic splash over the past year, creating two acclaimed works: In Creases, set to music by Philip Glass, and Year of the Rabbit, a splendid collaboration with the young composer Sufjan Stevens. For his third NYCB work in six months, Peck, a San Diego native, presents Paz de La Jolla, a ballet for 18 set to Bohuslav Martinu’s Sinfonietta La Jolla, as part of the company’s “New Combinations Evening” on January 31. Year of the Rabbit comes back on January 29. Hop along for the ride.
Time Out New York: How did this commission happen?
Justin Peck: It was actually a shocking meeting we had. [Peter] called me in and I thought it was just going to be a follow-up to everything that had been going on that fall season. He sat down with me and he started explaining his situation. He asked me if I had any ideas in terms of doing a new ballet for the winter season. I said, “Yes, I do!” [Laughs] I have this archive of different pieces of music that I want to work with. I was considering a few pieces, but there was one that stuck out to me. I had been listening to it for a couple of years and thought this would be a good opportunity to work with it.
Time Out New York: What is your approach to the Martinu?
Justin Peck: It’s a neat piece. It’s kind of imperfect in some ways, but I think that caters itself really well to dance in terms of what I can do with it and how I can shape it using the choreography. That was a big challenge for me.
Time Out New York: How is it imperfect? What do you mean?
Justin Peck: I would never want to go the symphony and just hear this piece on its own, whereas there are other pieces of music that I would absolutely go to the symphony and listen to and wouldn’t even consider making ballets to. So this is something that can actually be enhanced through dance and movement.
Time Out New York: Doesn’t it sound like a ballet?
Justin Peck: It does, and it’s rhythmically very interesting and has a lot syncopation to it. When I’m making a new ballet, I usually read through the score a little bit and then I have to go back and translate or transcribe all the counts for dancers because the way that you hear it is completely different from the way the musicians read and play it. The first movement is written in 4/4, but if you sit and listen with a naked ear, it doesn’t sound anything like 4/4. So I have this extensive list of translated counts for how the dancer hears the music. It can be a semi-tedious process of hours and hours spent listening to the music.
Time Out New York: But then once you get into the studio, you probably know it so well.
Justin Peck: Yes. And I’m always skeptical that there’s going to be a lag with the dancers becoming familiar with the music, but I think the dancers here are so well versed in difficult music, especially the Stravinsky music. There’s been a lot—[Alban] Berg [for Jerome Robbins’s] In Memory Of…. There are a lot of pieces with very difficult counts, and I think the counts for this piece are similar to something like Stravinsky Violin Concerto in terms of how challenging they are. So I have pieces I want to use and I just proposed this as an option to Peter. The music was written as a tribute to this area in Southern California where I’m from, and that was a cool connection for me. It draws a lot from my own personal experiences growing up. It toys with narrative a bit more than the last couple of pieces I’ve made and it has kind of a theme to it. A lot of it is about this antagonistic nature of the coastline and how there’s this constant push-and-pull fluctuation that the tides are involved in. There are aspects of how nature can be totally beautiful but completely dangerous. The design aspects are very coastal or beach-oriented. I’m really excited because I’m working with this guy…
Time Out New York: Reid Barthelme?
Justin Peck: Yes. You did an interview with him. He’s really talented and he works with Harriet Jung. They’re collaborating on the costumes and they’re like great 1950s vintage-inspired beachwear.
Time Out New York: I love that look. What are your references?
Justin Peck: I’ve always liked vintage posters of California beaches. It’s pretty vibrant and colorful. It’s definitely going to be different from Year of the Rabbit, which was very uniform. We wanted to come up with some sort of cohesive palette, but at the same time maintain a sense of individuality among the cast. I think this piece is a bit more human than the last one.
Time Out New York: I thought that was pretty human actually.
Justin Peck: You did? [Grins] There were certain moments that seemed like a working machine to me; maybe this one is a little more casual or pedestrian. I’m really happy with the designs. I have a lot of confidence in Reid. And ballet costumes are so hard to do, too. Reid’s very unique. He has good taste, and then he has the experience of being a dancer, so he knows what’s needed and the limitation and all that in designing.
Time Out New York: Who’s in it?
Justin Peck: The principals are Tiler Peck, Sterling Hyltin and Amar Ramasar. There are 15 corps de ballet: five male dancers and ten female dancers.
Time Out New York: Why did you put those principal dancers together?
Justin Peck: I wanted to work with a different cast than the last ballets. I worked with Amar and Sterling once at the Nantucket Atheneum Dance Festival a couple years ago. They don’t dance together very often, but I thought it was a really interesting pairing. They both have such positive gung ho attitudes in the studio and are willing to try anything and are super solid dancers. And Tiler, I’ve been dying to work with. She’s such a powerhouse. She has this ringleader role in the new ballet and she kind of guides the entire cast through it. She’s so technically able; rather than giving an alternative to that, I wanted to push it. I think with this ballet in general, I wanted to take what New York City Ballet was good at and push that further. I don’t think I’ve ever made anything this fast before.
Time Out New York: Is it hard for you to watch companies that don’t dance as fast as NYCB or that don’t approach movement with as much bite or attack?
Justin Peck: It is. I think that’s something I’m so attracted to, especially with this company. I haven’t really worked elsewhere yet and I’m worried that when I go and do a ballet somewhere else, it’s going to be completely frustrating. But I haven’t experienced it yet. Maybe it’ll be good to work with a company at a different pace and see how we can challenge them in the same way: make them move quicker, faster.
Time Out New York: Or find the Balanchine dancer in that company?
Justin Peck: Yes. [Laughs] Exactly. I really love that about New York City Ballet: It’s super athletic and musically driven, and those are two things I’m so into.
Time Out New York: Do you read and play music yourself?
Justin Peck: Yes. When I was at SAB [School of American Ballet] I started taking group piano lessons, and then I started taking [private] piano lessons—they have a really good music teacher there, Jeffrey Middleton. When I got into the company, I got so busy that I stopped playing. Recently I got an upright piano, so I’ve been trying to get back into it, and it’s kind of fun and really therapeutic to sit at the piano and play through things. I’ll look at the scores a bit. Not too extensively, but there are certain things that become more noticeable that maybe aren’t necessarily as noticeable just listening with a naked ear to a recording of it, so it helps to point out certain details in the score that I might care to focus on through choreography.
Time Out New York: One thing I loved about Year of the Rabbit was how you gave the corps de ballet a really prominent role—they were dancing as individuals. Within the structural machine, that’s where the humanness came in for me. What were you envisioning?
Justin Peck: I wanted to make the environment almost democratic and equal, and break down the hierarchy of the company—onstage at least and in my work. It threw some people who are used to this conventional way of looking at a ballet. It’s like, here’s the corps and here’s this next movement, and this is going to be the pas de deux and that has to be a satisfying, substantial aspect of the work. If something that involves the corps de ballet is equal to that or exceeds it in importance, it confuses certain people in a way. That was my intention with the work: To place an equal or exceedingly important role in what the corps de ballet did in relation to the principals’ role. Sometimes there’s a formulaic way of making a classical ballet that doesn’t necessarily have to be that way, but people expect to see it, and if you don’t give them that it’s confusing or they don’t like it.
Time Out New York: How are you using the corps de ballet in this piece?
Justin Peck: I’m really interested in working with groups. It’s a very simple thing for me, and if I’m given the option to work with two people or 10 or 20 people, I’m going to take 10 or 20. I just think there’s so much more I can do with that. Especially in a financial sense. You don’t always get the opportunity to work with big casts, so if I’m given a commission to make a work here, somewhere like NYCB, where they can support a ballet that involves a big cast, I’m going to jump at that opportunity. I decided to work with even a larger group—the corps de ballet in this is 15, and the last one was 12. There are fewer principals in this one, but because there are fewer principals in this ballet, their material gains more significance than in the last one, which was distributed evenly among six principals over the course of 30 minutes.
Time Out New York: I loved the Janie Taylor–Craig Hall duet in Rabbit. I thought it was beautiful.
Justin Peck: Thanks. They were great to work with. I like working with Janie. She’s always been really encouraging of my choreography from the very beginning. I think she really helped to nurture my voice. She was always eager to get in the studio, and if she had any sort of side project, she would invite me to work with her. And she and Craig work well together. He has this great ability to be a super quiet, silent partner. It’s very distinctive.
Time Out New York: How do you see formations and patterns and structure? When do you start considering that?
Justin Peck: It all comes from the music, really. I do a fair amount of sketching—they look like playbooks or something of how I want to dancers to move. It helps me visualize from a bird’s-eye view. It’s hard to get into the studio with a group of 20 dancers and to just improvise some sort of formation or pattern; I think that would result in something a little more simple than if I had put the preparation into it. So I do spend a lot of time preparing before I get into the studio. But it’s all musically driven, and it all just depends on the piece of music I’m listening to. That gives me hope that whatever ideas I come up with are going to be based on whatever the music is providing me with. The music pulls it out of me. But there are also issues of gravity and physics and what’s possible. Sometimes it won’t work. There are certain elements of improvisation at that point where you have to work on the spot and turn it into something, and sometimes those moments can result in really great things.
Time Out New York: Did anything like that happen this time?
Justin Peck: A lot of moments like that occurred with Tiler Peck. I would give her some phrase of movement and she would do it and make mistakes. She makes everything look so good that I would keep them, because they would work for her. I think her reacting to what I was giving her changed it into something even greater. Partnering is difficult to plan, especially. I’ll come in with an idea and it will be completely different to what I had envisioned. But that’s always exciting. Actually it almost gives me anxiety before I get into the studio, and then once I’m there, it’s fine.
Time Out New York: Aside from fast, how do you want the dancers to move?
Justin Peck: I’ve been working on finishing off the movement or accenting the movement in certain ways. I want it to be a cohesive moving body, and that involves everyone being super aware of one another and how they’re moving through the space. We’re getting there. We finished the piece a few days ago, and now we’re really working to refine the movement. I’m continuing to tweak things here and there. It kind of freaks me out: It happened very quickly, just the making of this ballet. Also Year of the Rabbit too. It was pretty much finished after three weeks. It was a weird feeling finishing it this early on. There’s a lot to worry about. I want the piece to arc in the right way, so that the material is still fresh for the premiere. It’s hard to time that.
Time Out New York: Do you always finish this early?
Justin Peck: Well, the last couple of ballets I have. I don’t really know why. If you break it down, probably 30 percent of the time is spent working in the studio and then the rest is spent outside of the studio just listening to the music or planning out what I’m going to do when I get into the studio with the dancers, or working out the counts and coming up with movement vocabulary. It’s pretty extensive and involved. In a sense I’ve been conditioned to work that way because NYCB is such a busy institution, and you never know exactly how much time you’re going to get. I think I’ve always done that here because I want to make sure that when I do get that time in the studio with the dancers, I can use it to its full potential.
Time Out New York: When you direct the dancers do you tell them to dance for each other like Robbins did? To ignore the audience?
Justin Peck: It’s not necessarily for each other, but I think there is a lot of tension among the dancers. It’s more specific than dancing for the rest of the cast. It’s “you’re going to dance in relationship to this group” or “you two are going to dance in relationship to one another.” Or the corps de ballet is going to dance in relationship to two principals. I think it’s a lot to do with building this tension between the cast in a very definitive and organized way, and that helps to shape the piece.
Time Out New York: Do you work in the studio by yourself?
Justin Peck: Yeah. I do a lot of just reacting to the music and coming up with certain movement fragments. I film myself. It’s amazing what a resource modern technology is now for making ballets, and I film my rehearsals almost every day. In a big ballet like this, there’s so much to watch and I care a lot about the details, so I’ll film the run-through at the end of the rehearsal and I’ll go home and watch every person in the cast and then offer corrections or suggestions the next day. It’s super helpful to have that and the ability to film myself and go back to that. I think it’s really changed the way that ballets can be made. Or even in finding music. I don’t know what they did 50 years ago when they had to find a piece of music. Maybe you had to really know music well.
Time Out New York: Maybe there were more mentors?
Justin Peck: Yes, definitely. There’s not a lot of that. Especially in the field of choreography.
Time Out New York: Why?
Justin Peck: I don’t know. It’s a really hard art form to know how to create something good in. It comes down to the question of, can choreography be taught? I got my experience working at the Choreographic Institute, and I think it’s their theory that choreography can’t be taught, but they’re willing to provide potential choreographers with the resources, which is really important. In a way, it’s sink or swim. Their thought is either you have the ability or you don’t, and it’s a way for them to see. I had a residency there from 2011 to 2012 that involved making a few works at the Institute. And I was on the panel to assess the choreographers for the following year, so I had to watch 70 submissions and whittle them down to six or seven choreographers. I worked with Richard Tanner and Peter on that.
Time Out New York: What was the experience of watching those tapes like for you?
Justin Peck: Depressing. I thought there was going to be a lot more out there. Maybe it was just not a good year for submissions. They’re looking for people interested in ballet choreography, and generally people who are musically driven and who are interested in working with pointe shoes, and most of the submissions were not that. That doesn’t mean they don’t accept people who don’t [work with pointe shoes], but at the same time that’s what they’re after: furthering the classical ballet art form, which I get. But it was kind of depressing and difficult. You can tell after watching a minute of a submission if you need to turn it off or keep watching. You get an eye for that.
Time Out New York: Do you have a natural affinity to work with the pointe shoe?
Justin Peck: Yeah. I was completely classically trained and went through the School of American Ballet, and I think a big aspect of my development and of my interest in choreography was when I was at SAB and I would come to the ballet every night. They gave the students tickets. That had tremendous influence on my taste and my aesthetic and my interest in classical ballet and the pointe shoe.
Time Out New York: You started dancing when you were 13 in San Diego. Why?
Justin Peck: My mom made me be a supernumerary in a production of ABT’s Giselle. It was a weird fluke because the company never toured to San Diego and randomly they had come for a week of Giselle. It’s not a big dance town. It’s pretty dead out there for the art form. I resisted and finally I did it, and I saw some of the male dancers in the company at the time; I saw how powerful they could be onstage. It was something I had never seen before. It was a big moment for me, and it completely inspired me to devote myself to training and the art of ballet. I remember Marcelo Gomes and Herman Cornejo and Ethan Stiefel. I was standing onstage with them too, so I got an up-close look. I trained pretty intensely for a couple of years at a school out there and I moved to New York when I was 15 to go to SAB. It was kind of like my escape to New York. I always wanted to come here; it always felt more like home to me than California. When I got the offer, I called my parents and said, “I’m going.” [Laughs]
Time Out New York: Why did your mom want you to be a supernumerary?
Justin Peck: She just liked ballet and she wanted to come see it. She was like, “You can just be in this. Why don’t you do that, and I’ll come watch.” [Laughs] It’s a weird way to get into it. And then ABT never came back. That was it.
Time Out New York: What was your training like in San Diego?
Justin Peck: It was good. It was more of a Russian background. There’s a place called California Ballet, and they had a few good teachers, and because I was a boy they had interest in me and focused on me a lot, which was helpful. I came to SAB and the style was a little different—it was a faster way of moving, and I think there was more emphasis placed on partnering, and that was fun for me. I liked that.
Time Out New York: How did you hear about SAB?
Justin Peck: I just honestly wanted to go to New York. [Laughs] I saw that this was the institution that was the most developed and had a residents hall, so you could live here—it was a like a boarding school and it was in New York. I didn’t really know about Balanchine; once I came here, a whole new education came about for me.
Time Out New York: For whom did you audition?
Justin Peck: It was Suki [Schorer]. Maybe Susie Pilarre was there too. It was in L.A., because they didn’t hold an audition in San Diego. I came for the summer course and then Peter Boal invited me to stay for the year.
Time Out New York: So you studied with Peter Boal, Jock Soto and Nikolai Hübbe?
Justin Peck: Yes. Nikolai was a great teacher. I loved his classes. It was very stylized and he had a lot of good things to say and he seemed really passionate about it too, which was important. The three of them offered very different classes; I think it was really well-rounded at that point when they were all there. They were all such great dancers too; it was so cool to be able to have them teach us in the day and then go watch them perform. It was a very good role-model setup.
Time Out New York: You really hadn’t choreographed until Columbia Ballet Collaborative?
Justin Peck: That’s right.
Time Out New York: Why weren’t you a part of the Choreographic Workshop held at SAB?
Justin Peck: I don’t know. It was always something I thought about for a really long time, and I just didn’t know when was the right time to try it. Eventually, it almost started to eat away at me. I really wanted to pursue it. I was studying at GS [School of General Studies] at Columbia, and that was around the time when Columbia Ballet Collaborative was founded. I asked them if I could just do a short four-minute pas de deux, so I made a piece [for Teresa Reichlen and Russell Janzen]. That was the first thing. It was kind of a struggle at that point; I had no experience and I was working with these great professional dancers. It’s hard because it is such a high-maintenance art form, and there’s not that much room for experience. There were a few pieces that I had to just go through to grow as a choreographer. I don’t think they were necessarily very good, and I’m not proud of them, but they’re totally essential to my growth. It’s hard to get those opportunities, and I’m grateful for CBC and for the Institute. Especially at the Institute, I was able to try things and to work with groups of more than two or three dancers. The first piece I did there, I worked with ten dancers, and that was the first time I realized this was a fascinating format for me: working with a group. It just felt natural.
Time Out New York: Other than Robbins and Balanchine, it also seems like Ratmansky is a big influence on you. Is that true?
Justin Peck: Yes. I got to work with him a couple of times. He’s a real dancer’s choreographer. The process of working with him in the studio is so great. When I first got into the company, I worked with a lot of choreographers and I would take mental notes about what I liked and what I didn’t, and I think one of the most important things I discovered is that it’s important to have real vision. You see that not too often; it’s pretty rare, and it was very strong in Alexei. Chris [Wheeldon] had some of that too, and it always felt like a separation. They were a cut above—working with them versus working with someone else. I was really in awe of Alexei in the studio. His work ethic, too. He’s so disciplined and organized. That set a standard for me in terms of how I wanted to work myself in the studio. He’s a big influence.
Time Out New York: Whom else do you watch?
Justin Peck: I really like Crystal Pite, actually. I’ve seen a few of her pieces—not all of them are good, but I saw a piece she did for Nederlands Dans Theater in March. It was so stunning, and it was this moment when I remember thinking, God, I wish I had thought of that. When that moment occurs, you know it’s a good piece. I like Ohad Naharin.
Time Out New York: Do you ever take Gaga classes?
Justin Peck: I’ve been wanting to do it. They used to have a class downtown, but…
Time Out New York: Gaga is great. Go to the Mark Morris Dance Center. That’s the best studio.
Justin Peck: Okay. I like Mark Morris a lot, actually. It’s so refreshing to see his work because he really gets music, and in a lot of choreography the music is wallpaper. It’s just there and then there’s dancing going on. That always bothered me. I saw his company at BAM last spring and it was so refreshing to see that, even though some of his movement gets to be a little bit like Renaissance dancing—pedestrian in a way. I guess I’m used to seeing ballet, which is so athletic and intense in comparison. That frustrates me a little bit, but his understanding of music is tremendous. I actually got to meet William Forsythe last year, and he was a very inspiring person to talk to. He’s supersharp—a smart guy. Knows what he wants and what he’s after. I would be interested in spending a week just shadowing him and his company. It would be totally beneficial for me to experience something like that. And I like his work, too. It’s interesting because there are so many imitators, but when I see his work, it feels like this is the best version of this type of movement still. I like that about him.
Time Out New York: What do you think about in terms of your own dancing? Do you enjoy dancing yourself?
Justin Peck: I do. I got to debut in The Cage last fall. It’s one of my favorite ballets of all time, and it was a dream come true to get to do that. I was super stoked. I like doing West Side Story and The Firebird. I get to do Brahms-Schoenberg—the second movement. That’s really a balanced challenge for me. I like doing Fearful Symmetries because it’s such an athletic piece. It’s very extreme in how far it pushes you physically. I think it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done physically. I like doing [Concerto] DSCH. I actually get to dance DSCH when my ballet premieres. It’s really cool. I’m really excited about it.
Time Out New York: Does it come after or before?
Justin Peck: After. I’m going to watch. Bow really quickly and then run and change, do my makeup and run out. [Laughs] It’ll be good! I’ll have the adrenaline. And how many choreographers can say that they’ve performed on the night of a premiere at City Ballet? I think it’s really important because I am still dancing, and it is a symbolic thing that I’m both presenting my work and I’m still dancing in the corps here. It’s cool for me. It’s a nice feeling. I get to do Opus Jazz this season. It’s really fun. I’ve done Concerto Barocco a lot, and I don’t know if I necessarily enjoy dancing it, but the process of doing it over an extended period of time has been a good challenge to see how I can develop what I do in that. It’s a weird part. I think the way it’s choreographed, the man is not really supposed to be seen. I don’t know what the intention was exactly, but it’s been a challenge trying to find those moments where you can subtly put your stamp on the role and on the ballet without overstepping that. It took me awhile to figure it out, and Peter talked to me a lot about it. We had some good conversations about it, because I think he did it for a very long time when he was dancing, and I think Balanchine spoke with him a lot about that. He had a lot of good things to say from his personal experience dancing it, and also passing along that information that Balanchine gave him.
Time Out New York: What did he tell you?
Justin Peck: He told me that it’s a very important role, even though the man is not necessarily totally exposed or seen. At the same time, it’s a very specific role and only certain people can dance it. He told me a story about how he had been dancing it for a long period of time and he went to Balanchine and was like, “Oh my back, it’s not good—you have all these other guys. Can’t one of them just do it?” And Balanchine said, “This is a role that’s specific for you and I need you to do this.” In a way, it’s kind of like how I cast this ballet that’s coming up. When I thought about Amar and Sterling and Tiler; these are roles for them and no one else. They need to be the ones dancing them.
Time Out New York: Do you have aspirations to be promoted to soloist? What do you think about in terms of your dancing?
Justin Peck: I do have aspirations to move up in this company and I want to continue to be challenged. I want to continue to grow with my dancing. I want to keep dancing, but it’s a difficult situation I’m in right now. I am receiving a lot of amazing opportunities to choreograph. There needs to be a proper balance between my challenges in my dancing and my challenges in my choreography for me to continue to dance. It’s a delicate thing.
Time Out New York: Are those opportunities coming from here or elsewhere?
Justin Peck: It’s a combination. I know these dancers well, and they’re really starting to pick up on my own working process, and it feels like it’s becoming this mutual, long-term collaborative atmosphere. If I can, I want to continue to make this place my priority. I see a lot of choreographers traveling all over the world and working in a freelance sort of way, and I don’t know if that necessarily interests me. Of course I want to work with other companies, but at the same time I’d prefer to have something more consistent and focused. If you look at the history of the company and the way Balanchine and Robbins worked, and Peter too, they’re focused on what they can do here. That notion has been lost a little bit recently, and I think there can be a return to that in some ways. It’s such a great institution. It deserves that.
Time Out New York: How has it been lost?
Justin Peck: I think choreography has become this international, global thing and it’s hard to say no to a lot of the offers and opportunities. If you look at Chris, who was the resident choreographer here for a couple of years, it just seemed like he wanted to work everywhere and work here too, of course. I don’t know. Sometimes if certain choreographers take on so much they can spread themselves thin. I’m not referring specifically to Chris or any choreographer, but I just see that every now and then and I think it’s important to not do too much. I think the fact that I’m still dancing is a blessing in that way. I can focus on my dancing and it limits my time and I can really devote a lot of thought into the few projects I have lined up.
Time Out New York: What’s coming up?
Justin Peck: The only thing that’s definite is that I’m going to do a piece for L.A. Dance Project this summer. During the City Ballet layoff in August, I’ll go to L.A. There are a couple of other things in the works.
Time Out New York: Does Peter ever talk to you about becoming the resident choreographer?
Justin Peck: That would be a dream. I would say yes. [Laughs] He’s a little more reserved in what he’ll talk to me about, but he’s always been really supportive of my work and development, and he’s been really good about giving me opportunities to grow as a choreographer. The other great thing about that is he gives me creative freedom to do what I want. In a big institution like this? I think it’s rare to find that.
Time Out New York: Who do you think you are as a choreographer? What is your point of view?
Justin Peck: I think that music is the greatest pleasure in the world and my vision as a choreographer is to expand upon that notion and show people this through choreography and through movement. For my work and for my process, a lot of it really just is deciphering these pieces of music. A lot of time it feels like a weird puzzle: I’ve received a piece of music, and the score and how I interpret that in the form of choreography is sort of what it’s about for me. That’s the most important thing. I’ve thought a lot about what style I want to present as a choreographer, too. There’s a progression toward this genre of contemporary ballet that I don’t think is the only direction that the art form can go in. I think there are different branches that can veer off from the classical ballet base, and there’s a lot more that can be done with that classical ballet vocabulary that maybe a lot of people don’t necessarily see. Alexei is someone who sees that.
Time Out New York: Do you think about being a choreographer of your generation?
Justin Peck: I do. I don’t know exactly what that is yet. I think I’m still very new. I don’t even know how many dances I’ve made, but it’s not very many. I hope to contribute a lot. There’s this Diaghilev quote that I always go back to. It’s very simple. He said, “I have big plans.” Maybe I’m being overly optimistic. [Laughs] But that’s how I feel.
New York City Ballet performs at the David H. Koch Theater (at Lincoln Center) through Feb 24.