New York City Ballet’s Justin Peck talks about new work

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By Dayelin Roman

Justin Peck said his first inspiration was the power of male dancers.

The 24-year-old New York City Ballet dancer and choreographer was 13 when he saw a performance of American Ballet Theatre in San Diego and began practicing plies afterward.

On July 14, he will present his first choreographed ballet for the New York City Ballet — a world premiere at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center set to composer Philip Glass’ “Four Movements for Two Pianos,” the first time a ballet has been set to the music.

“It might be a bit unusual for someone my age to premiere a work at a major institution like NYCB,” he said.

The premiere at SPAC’s Ballet Gala is part of the ballet’s annual SPAC season, which runs from Tuesday, July 10, to to Saturday, July 21.

The ballet gala will also include Christopher Wheeldon’s most recent ballet for the city ballet, “Les Carillons,” and a new work by Benjamin Millepied that premiered May 10 as part of the ballet’s 2012 spring season at Lincoln Center.

Peck moved to New York City at 15 and began dancing with the School of American Ballet until he joined the NYCB in 2007. He said as soon as he began dancing in New York City, he considered the possibilities of choreographing.

“It’s been in the back of my mind for quite some time,” he said. “For a while, I contemplated whether to hold off from choreographing and concentrate on dancing.”
But Peck said choreography eventually became as much of a calling as dance.

“I found myself compelled to pursue the art of choreography,” he said. “I found it almost necessary to take the plunge.”

Peck began his foray into choreography in 2009, when he created “Quintet.” Since then, he has choreographed “Tales of a Chinese Zodiac” (2010), and “In Creases” (2011) for the New York Choreographic Institute; “Enjoy Your Rabbit” (2010) and “A Teacup Plunge” (2009) for the Columbia University Ballet Collaborative. He has also choreographed “The Enormous Room” (June 2011) at Skidmore College and was commissioned by Benjamin Millepied to create “7 (for seven)” for the Nantucket Atheneum Dance Festival in July 2011.

“For me, it’s always been an exploration of music,” Peck said. “I’ve always wanted to find ways to explore, dissect and enhance certain music scores and movement. It stems from my love of music.”

Peck said finding the right music is the first step and about 50 percent of the choreography process.

For the ballet Peck will premiere at SPAC, he said he listened to the Philip Glass piece for several months before deciding to use it.

“At first I was skeptical to use it,” he said. “It’s become almost a cliché to choreograph to his music. It ultimately came down to the fact that this is a good score, a very good danceable score.”

The score has repetitive minimalistic themes that are common with Glass’s music, Peck said, but it expands beyond that to include romantic undertones, kaleidoscopic patterns and symmetries.

“I take a lot from the structure of the score,” he said. “A lot of my ideas projected against the music.”

But at the same time, he said, the music gave him room to be creative.

“It’s kind of the closest thing to a blank canvas,” he said. “I was very adamant that I made sure that no other choreographer that I know of has worked with this piece of music.”

But Peck hasn’t given up on dancing in ballets. He will appear in the Balanchine classic “Firebird” and Jerome Robbins’ “In The Night” during the city ballet’s stint at SPAC.
“Dancing is more than a full-time profession,” he said.

The city ballet works and rehearses for 40 weeks a year, he said. On the weeks the company is off, Peck said he concentrates on choreography projects.
“I’m interested in both, and I hope to maintain a presence in both fields for a while,” he said.

Peck’s premiere will be the first world premiere presented by City Ballet at SPAC in more than 25 years and only the seventh City Ballet premiere at SPAC. ■ 518-454-5350 ■ @dayelinR ■

At a glance
New York City Ballet

When: Tuesday-July 21
Where: Saratoga Performing Arts Center, 108 Avenue of the Pines, Saratoga Springs
Tickets: $22-$75 for evening performances; $15-$30 for matinees
Info: 518-587-3330;

Justin Peck

  • 7 p.m. Friday: Peck will give a pre-performance talk on the eve of the world premiere of his latest dance “Four Movements for Two Pianos.” Tickets for this event cost $5.
  • 8 p.m. Saturday, July 14: New York City Ballet – Gala Night features the world premiere of Peck’s “Four Movements for Two Pianos” as well as the SPAC premieres of Benjamin Millepied’s “Two Hearts” and Christopher Wheeldon’s “Les Carillons.” Tickets for the gala dinner and performance range from $175 to $250.


  • 8 p.m. Tuesday, July 10: Opening Night. All Balanchine: “Concerto Barocco” (Bach/Balanchine); Kammermusik No. 2 (Hindemith/Balanchine); “Firebird” (Stravinsky/Balanchine & Robbins); Symphony in C (Bizet/Balanchine)
  • 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 11: American Girl Night. “Jeu de Cartes” (Stravinsky/Martins); “In the Night” (Chopin/Robbins); “Russian Seasons” (Desyatnikov/Ratmansky). All children $5 this night.
  • 2 p.m. Thursday, July 12: All Russian. “Russian Seasons,” “Firebird,” “Jeu de Cartes”
  • 8 p.m. Thursday, July 12 : Date Night. Mixed repertory. “Barocco”/”Kammermusik,” “The Waltz Project” (Martins), Symphony in C
  • 8 p.m. Friday, July 13: Family Night. Mixed Repertory. “Russian Seasons,” “In the Night,” “Firebird”
  • 2 p.m. Saturday, July 14: Mixed repertory. “Barocco”
  • ”Kammermusik,” “The Waltz Project,” Symphony in C
  • 8 p.m. Saturday, July 14: Ballet Gala (see above)
  • 8 p.m. Tuesday, July 17: Mixed Repertory. “Russian Seasons,” “Sinfonia” (Stravinsky/Martins); “Moves” (Robbins); Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet (Brahms orchestrated by Schoenberg/Balanchine)
  • 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 18: Girls Night Out. ‘‘Romeo & Juliet’’ (Prokofiev/Martins)
  • 2 p.m. Thursday, July 19: Mixed Repertory. “Jeu de Cartes,” “The Waltz Project,” Brahms-Schoenberg
  • 8 p.m. Thursday, July 19: ‘‘Romeo & Juliet’’
  • 8 p.m. Friday, July 20: Family Night. Brahms-Schoenberg, Sinfonia/Moves, “DGV: Danse a Grande Vitesse” (Wheeldon)
  • 2 p.m. Saturday, July 21: ‘‘Romeo & Juliet’’
  • 8 p.m. Saturday, July 21: Mixed Repertory. “Jeu de Cartes,” “DGV: Danse a Grande Vitesse,” Symphony in C

Pre-performance talks
SPAC offers talks with various experts — performers, choreographers, musicians and scholars — before each performance. For an additional $5, ticketholders to the performance can attend the talks in SPAC’s Gold Room. Visit for details.



  1. I’m going to SPAC to see Ballet for first time. We have long tickets. What time should we get there do you think, to claim our spot on the lawn? Any other tips for a good experience?


  2. M. If you are going to the ballet on American Girl Night, which is Wednesday, July 11, or for a matinee, I’d recommend getting there early — say no later than 30 to 45 minutes before curtain time — to get a decent spot for your blanket/chairs. Bring something to nosh on and don’t forget the insect repellent, a jacket, an umbrella in case of rain and an extra blanket because it can get chilly at SPAC once the sun goes down.


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