Tiler Peck On Facing Her Fears To Curate An Epic Show Of Dance And Music At City Center

When City Center was looking for an artist to curate their inaugural show, Artists at the Center, they turned to Tiler Peck. The storied mecca of art and culture approached the New York City Ballet principal dancer to put together a rich and eclectic program with some of the world’s most prolific dancers and musicians.

Even with all her experience as a prima ballerina who was also the first woman to curate the Ballet Now program of dance at The Music Center in Los Angeles, Peck was filled with fear. “When Stanford, [Stanford Makishi, vice president of programming] and Arlene [Arlene Shuler, president and CEO] of City Center first asked me if I wanted to do it, I remember saying, “You want me to do this in New York? That sounds terrifying!,” shares Peck.

Yet despite her fears Peck knew she had to take on this challenge and step out of her comfort zone and curate this unique collaboration of artists. As Anaïs Nin reportedly said, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” And Peck was ready to take that risk.

What Peck put together is a layered and deeply personal program of works by William Forsythe, Alonzo King, Michelle Dorrance, Jillian Meyers and Peck herself. Artists at the Center, which runs March 4 to 6, will debut a City Center commission choreographed by dance titans Dorrance, Meyers and Peck. The piece is set to new music by Aaron Marcellus and Penelope Wendtland. Dorrance describes the work as “Subdivisions of time and space, and intersections of isolation and community, longing and joy.”

The choreographers and artists are an eclectic and visionary group who are different in their styles but united by their artistry and creativity.Peck will perform alongside Isabella Boylston, India Bradley, Herman Cornejo, Michelle Dorrance, Jovani Furlan, Christopher Grant, Lex Ishimoto, Lauren Lovette, Brooklyn Mack, Roman Mejia, Jillian Meyers, KJ Takahashi, Byron Tittle and Cassandra Trenary. The program features musicians Chelsea de Souza, Aaron Marcellus, Sequoia Snyder, Penelope Wendtlandt and the Bergamot Quartet. 

“This opportunity continues to stretch every part of my being. It has given me the chance to grow as a director and artist,” says Peck. “I am able to create with dancers that inspire me and help me build on my own vision and ability. At this point in my career, I want to take chances. I want to continue evolving and developing and I don’t believe anything great happens from playing it safe.”

Jeryl Brunner: Can you talk more about what went through your mind when you were asked to be the first artist curator for Artists at the Center and what you hope to achieve?

Tiler Peck: My initial reaction to Stanford and Arlene made me think about New York and its ironic ability to be welcoming and intimidating at the same time. New York is a city full of opportunity. You can be anyone and do anything if you are determined. Also, New York is filled with the best of the best—the most talent and the best artistry on stage. Audiences can see absolutely anything their heart desires at the drop of a hat.

I decided to create the program around that exact ideal. I wanted to build a program New York audiences would only experience in this particular time and space. It would be a program that would have something for everyone but have the sophistication and pedigree that would get even the most bona fide dance aficionados excited. I wanted to show a program entirely consisting of premieres, which lead to two New York premieres—one live world premiere and a new commission just for these evenings.

Brunner: The choreographers and artists are all so varied. Can you talk about why you choose them?

Peck: Working with William Forsythe was always on my bucket list. We tried to get together and create a work for three years and our schedules were just never able to align. We laugh now that it took a pandemic for us to have the time to finally work together and create a piece, The Barre Project, that means so much to me. I can’t hardly way to perform and share it with a live audience.

Alonzo King has such an important voice in the dance world and I was yearning to get in the room and learn from him. As a result, the Swift Arrow pas de deux he created for Roman Mejia and me is also a product of the pandemic. I reached out to Alonzo and asked if he wanted to work together and he said “yes,” so we flew to San Francisco and created a bubble so we could work safely and create this intimate pas de deux. To be able to make art during a time that was so uncertain and scary fills me with so much gratitude and pride.

And as for Michelle, I just love her. We met when I was 17-years-old and we instantly clicked. I am so fascinated with tap. I am not very good at it but I know enough about it to recognize what an extraordinary talent Michelle is. I always say I feel extremely musical until I walk into a room with Michelle. There is just something so unique about the way she hears music that constantly challenges me. I have been having the time of my life figuring out all of the similarities and differences within tap and ballet and how they can intertwine.

Brunner: How did you go about choreographing your own work, Thousandth Orange, which you created in 2019?

Peck: Damian Woetzel commissioned and had me create the piece for the Vail Dance Festival in 2019. Damian believed in me and my choreographic voice and gave me the confidence to choreograph my first ballet for Vail in 2018. Then I did Thousandth Orange in 2019 and my third piece in 2021. I love revisiting this piece with the original cast because we continue to develop it more every time. It’s a continuing conversation and collaboration with me and the dancers. I feel that the ballet continues to improve as I do as a choreographer and the dancers evolve too. It’s an ever-changing and breathing entity.

Brunner: What is your process?

Peck: For me, the process is all about the music. If I love the music, the steps come easily and I know what I want to say. I always go into the room prepared, because as a dancer I know how it feels when time is wasted and I never want my dancers to feel that. So I go into the room with a base structure but then immediately begin to form it on who I have in the room. Something that might look good on my body might not sit the same way on the dancer I teach it to. So I immediately change it to work for them. I am never set in one way. We must find it together. It is a very collaborative experience.

Brunner: City Center is such a beautiful space with so much history. Why do you love working and performing there?

Peck: I love working in the studios at City Center, because I know how many incredible people who I so admire have walked and created in the very rooms that I am working in. There is a special energy there and a spirit full of history and artistry. I am honored to be part of that legacy.

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