New York City Ballet Principal Tiler Peck and modern dance pioneer Mark Morris come to Orange County with productions that blend styles and emphasize musical collaboration.
This weekend, Segerstrom Center for the Arts and Musco Center for the Arts will be buzzing with unique pictures of dance that show the art form’s range and remind us that dance isn’t one thing – there’s room to explore and experiment.
Tiler Peck’s “Turn It Out with Tiler Peck and Friends” and Mark Morris’ “The Look of Love” will bring a combination of modern and balletic styles, narrative and abstract movement, bravura and softness.
Morris is the more experienced dance artist on the weekend’s roster, having emerged in the 1980s with the foundation of his company, the Mark Morris Dance Group. He has created over 150 works for his company and has also choreographed over a dozen ballets for repertory companies worldwide.
Peck, on the other hand, is making her directorial debut following a professional career that began when she appeared in “The Music Man” on Broadway at age 11. She became an apprentice for the New York City Ballet at age 15 and was promoted to principal dancer in 2009, where she remains to this day. “Director” seems a natural addition to her list of achievements, which include actress, choreographer, author and designer, curator and executive producer.
Both artists have been heralded for their musicality –– The New York Times called Morris “the most successful and influential choreographer alive, and indisputably the most musical” and referred to Peck as an “exceptionally musical dancer” who explores the “visualization of sound”–– so Orange County audiences have two options to catch what Morris refers to as a “song and dance show.”
'Turn it Out with Tiler Peck and Friends'
In 2020, Peck, like most of us, found herself at home with nothing but time on her hands. On a whim, she decided to teach a ballet class online through Instagram Live and the next thing she knew, she was teaching up to 15,000 daily participants and the hashtag #TurnItOutWithTiler was trending.
“I thought I’d be lucky if 15 people signed on to join the class,” Peck said. After a huge learning curve that involved, among other things, making sure her feet were visible while teaching, Peck said the daily classes turned into something very special and motivating.
“I like to think that it helped people who were at home. I think it allowed this community of dancers to have something to get up for every morning.”
#TurnItOutWithTiler was not the only thing that was made possible by the pandemic. Two new works by Alonzo King and William Forsythe, respectively, were also created while Peck and other artists were waiting to resume their normal schedules.
“I finally had a chance to make my own schedule, and I knew I couldn’t just sit, so I asked myself what I wanted to do and reached out to make it happen,” Peck said.
It wasn’t the ideal time, but both King and Forsythe were up for the challenge.
“Because of (Peck), we all stayed in feast,” King said in reference to a time when most performing artists were out of work.
“(Peck) was coming out of an injury, and she told me ‘I'm not going to stop, I am going to get creative,’ and I think that is how all of us human beings need to look at things when faced with a challenge –– get creative. (Peck) was the spark and light that got us moving,” King said.
King’s “Swift Arrow'' is an original pas de deux created for Peck and New York City Ballet soloist Roman Mejia. It features original music by the Kennedy Center’s artistic director of jazz, Jason Moran.
Also created during the pandemic was Forsythe’s “The Barre Project,” (“Blake Works
II”) with music by James Blake. The piece features Peck with dancers Lex Ishimoto, Brooklyn Mack and Mejia and features a ballet barre as a centerpiece prop.
Ishimoto, who grew up in Orange County before winning Season 14 of “So You Think You Can Dance” in 2017, was tapped by Forsythe to join the cast, and he admits it was a total surprise.
“(Peck) called me and told me that ‘Bill’ would like to talk to me and I honestly didn’t know who she was referring to at first, it seemed so random,” Ishimoto said. “But I feel very lucky to accidentally be included in this elite group of dancers.”
Hardly an accident, Ishimoto will also perform in “Time Spell,” choreographed by tap dancer Michelle Dorrance, Jillian Meyers and Peck. He will lean into his tap dancing talents that are rarely showcased despite being the style he started with. When he thinks about the show, Ishimoto said he’s excited and nervous, because he’ll be back in his hometown doing what he loves.
“More than any other show, I would personally want to watch the show myself,” Ishimoto said. “It is definitely a joyous show. There is a splatter of everything.”
The myriad of styles presented in “Turn It Out with Tiler Peck and Friends” is absolutely intentional.
“This program is a love letter to my craft as a dancer and the manifestation of my
total freedom as an artist,” Peck said in a press release. “(The show) will undeniably be more than what people are used to seeing at the ballet with tutus and tiaras.”
As a young dancer who admittedly hated ballet and thought it was boring, Peck said she wanted to put together a show that demonstrates that ballet isn’t just one thing. She worked hard to bring new works to expand the repertory for viewers who are eager to see dance that reflects modern times.
Said Peck: “It’s almost my call of duty to show the world that ballet is alive. Yes, we build on the foundation and the classics, but I also want to show something that people are moved by.”
'Turn It Out With Tiler Peck and Friends'
Mark Morris’ “The Look of Love”
Creating a new dance requires training and familiarity with dance technique, of course, but also life experiences and knowledge of sculpture, literature and art. The craft of choreography brings all these inspirations together using bodies, space and time.
Also necessary is an active imagination, astute observations and, for Morris, music.
“I’m a bad dance promoter because sometimes I don’t like a dance show — I like a music show,” said Morris during an after-show talk back when the company appeared in Santa Barbara earlier this year.
In the past, Morris described himself as “a musician whose medium is dance” and his latest creation, “The Look of Love,” further promotes that stance by completing a study or response to the composer Burt Bacharach.
“Burt Bacharach’s music is pretty much perfect,” Morris said in press materials for the show. “Always engaging melodically, always surprising rhythmically, with a touch of melancholy and a striving hop, Bacharach’s marvelous music calls out for dancing.”
Morris and the company will travel to Orange County for a one-night-only performance of the work on Nov. 4 at Musco Center for the Arts. The evening-length compilation of more than a dozen Bacharach hits includes “I Say A Little Prayer,” “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,” “What the World Needs Now is Love” and “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.” The 14 dancers will be accompanied live by the Mark Morris Dance Group Music Ensemble consisting of piano, trumpet, bass and percussion, with lead vocals by singer, actress and Broadway star Marcy Harriell.
Bringing live musical accompaniment makes things harder, admits Morris, but it is crucial to the work.
“It is way more expensive, there are more logistics, but it is also the only way I want it. It’s all or nothing,” Morris said. “For me, it’s worth it because it's the real thing. I want it all live.”
In preparation for creating the production, Morris and composer Ethan Iverson had a chance to meet with Bacharach, although he passed away shortly before the work’s premiere in Santa Monica.
The press release from the company quotes Bacharach saying that he had always wanted to see his music reimagined in a theatrical production. It was also noted that Bacharach gave his “seal of approval” on the score by Iverson and commended Morris for his “deep musicality.”
“I choreograph in order to see dances that I want to see,” Morris said. “I don't want anyone to go to sleep.”
The company’s visit to California will also include master classes for Chapman University dance students and The Wooden Floor. Public events include an open panel discussion on the history of the Mark Morris Dance Group and a screening of the film “Capturing Grace” about the company’s program for people with Parkinson’s disease.