As ballet evolves through this time of COVID, some institutions and individuals have evolved as innovators, while others have slipped into an even more archaic and dated state. New York City Ballet’s Tiler Peck has leapt ahead of the industry.
In addition to consistently teaching an open class on her Instagram Live feed during Quarantine, Peck teamed up with LA-based CLI Studios to produce a new digital performance. For those unfamiliar, CLI Studios is a digital dance streaming service that is popular among competitive studios and dancers for its access to competitive choreographer content.
“A New Stage” was created by Peck as a front-row experience presented by world-class dancers and some of the most highly profiled collaborators. The $20 streamed performance includes names like Lil Buck, Sierra Boggess, Brooklyn Mack, and the Syncopated Ladies.
The broadcast is introduced by Peck and then moves into Unusual Way by the award-winning Christopher Wheeldon. Of course the ballet world knows who he is, but for the commercial world, it presented a tremendous introductory effort. This piece entailed a pointe solo by Peck accompanied by vocals sung by Broadway star Sierra Boggess. The slow and romantic movement showcased Peck in a softer presence than her typical portrayal with City Ballet. The piece was delicate and approachable, and definitely created a diverse audience-friendly contemporary ballet that felt welcoming to everyone.
The tap ensemble Syncopated Ladies, then presented its spectacular offering, Amplified. This piece was vibrant, clear, and a true reflection of our times. It transcended the obvious use of popular music, and truly offered something we don’t see often enough in the world of concert dance: high caliber, technical, and clean tap. It wasn’t a part of a Broadway show, it wasn’t a part of a competition showcase, and it wasn’t trying to be a ground breaking percussive performance. Instead, this performance was purely about the tapping, and the people performing. There were multiple body types, ethnicities, and individual artists amongst these delightfully talented women. In today’s world, where ballet struggles between elitism and accessibility, the Syncopated Ladies’ performance truly was a punch of power, hope and progress for the world of dance.
Finally, the evening concluded with the big performance: Petrushka Reimagined. Petrushka originally premiered in 1911 with the Ballet Russes. It was choreographed by Fokine to Stravinsky, who had in 1910, just premiered his score to the ballet, Firebird. Originally, this ballet was supposed to be Rite of Spring for Diaghilev, but Stravinsky wasn’t feeling it at the time and composed the score around a puppet.
As this ballet is really intended for a more sophisticated ballet audience, each version that was subsequently created was condensed, and the score cut down and simplified by Stravinsky himself.
An updated Petrushka was previously premiered in 2009 by the Scottish Ballet, and in 2012 a small company in Florida also premiered a Petrushka interpretation with hip-hop, but used a full cast instead of limiting the piece to 3 dancers. This version was definitely more audience friendly, and probably suited the wider commercial audience it was created to entertain. The dancing was great, however the choreography held this piece back from realizing its full potential. With such a capable cast, it was disappointing to find it not as complex or developed as it should have been.
This presentation was based on the later version featuring Nureyev, which only requires 3 dancers. Lil Buck was featured as Petrushka (the puppet), Tiler Peck as the ballerina, and Brooklyn Mack as the Moore. The performance drew from hip hop, pop-locking, vogueing, classical ballet, and contemporary ballet. While I appreciated the choreographer, Jennifer Weber’s, take of Petrushka, the actual sadness, darkness, and complexity of the original ballet is missing, and the focus is not on Petrushka but on Peck’s ballerina doll and a love triangle that is portrayed through elaborate commercial dance.
Overall, the entire evening was beautifully filmed and crafted and is a great exposure opportunity for younger audiences. Older audiences could appreciate Weber’s Petrushka as one of the only ballets where the male characters are more developed and portray a wider range of emotions. As a commercial introduction to the world of concert dance, this performance checked all of the right boxes: diversity, technique, modernity, and entertainment…but, the $20 was worth it for Syncopated Ladies alone! Check out the performance here.
CLI’s next performance will include a world premiere by William Forsythe and Tiler Peck. Stay tuned for more.