Ballet Stars

Tiler Peck Hopes to Inspire Other Women to Take on Leadership Roles With "Ballet Now" Documentary

In 2017, Tiler Peck became the first woman to curate The Music Center's BalletNOW program. Photo courtesy of Vulcan Productions.

In case you've been living under a rock, we've been counting down the days until the July 20th release of Tiler Peck's documentary, Ballet Now, all summer. Officially available for streaming on Hulu, the documentary follows the New York City Ballet principal tackling a new role as the curator of The Music Center's BalletNOW program in Los Angeles, CA. The three-performance program featured an international cast of 24 dancers, 15 pieces across multiple dance genres and a live orchestra—all organized (and often danced) by Peck. Phew, we're exhausted just thinking about it.

As if that wasn't challenging on its own, Peck signed on to have the days leading up to opening night filmed. Produced by Paul G. Allen's Vulcan Productions, Emmy® Award-winning actress (and Peck's friend) Elisabeth Moss, and Stick Figure Studios, the team turned BalletNOW into a behind-the-scenes experience for everyone to enjoy. We caught up with Peck ahead of the documentary's release for the inside scoop on her curatorial debut, the filming process, and a few very stressful moments where she wondered how it would all come together.



How did the opportunity to put together BalletNOW come about?
The Music Center brought me in—I was visiting my family in California at the time, and they had called a meeting with me. I went to the offices, and they asked me, 'How would you feel about curating these evenings?' They said, 'You'll be the first female that we've asked, what do you think?' I couldn't quite believe it at the time, but I was also super excited. The first thing I thought was how fun that this will be in California, where I'm from. I can share this with family and friends that can't make it to New York to see my shows.

And then, on top of it, to be the first woman curating the program—that was really exciting for me. It was also very stressful because I put pressure on myself. I wanted it to be a success so that possibly, I would inspire other women to put themselves forward in things that maybe they never thought they could do. For me, it wasn't about just getting asked to dance, where I can fall back on what I know and love to do. This was a whole other element, and I didn't know what was going to happen.

How did the idea for the documentary come about?
When we put together the programs, we were thinking of how we could capture this so that people could see it even if they weren't in L.A. At first, we talked about doing something like "Live From Lincoln Center." Then Lizzie (Elisabeth Moss) is a huge ballet fan—she used to dance—and she was very adamant about wanting to show what it takes to actually be a ballerina. You know, people just think, 'Oh, it's so beautiful,' but they have no idea about the work and dedication that goes into putting something like this together. Lizzie said, 'I definitely want to show that; I would want to see that.'

Had you ever put together a production like this before?
I had put together a little gig in Key West with six dancers, but nothing to this magnitude—it didn't have an orchestra, there weren't 24 dancers, it wasn't the size of the New York City Ballet stage. This definitely felt like a first for me.

Peck's dog Cali hangs out backstage during rehearsals. Still from 'Ballet Now.'

Was there anyone you reached out to for advice?
I did a lot of it by myself, honestly, but I think I learned a lot from Damian Woetzel—going to his Vail Festival for the past 10 years or so, and watching him run it—he's always been a huge role model and figure in my life and career. I think I learned a lot just from watching him. You always pull from what you know when you're going into something new and then try to figure out the rest as you go.

How much of the production for this did you do ahead of time?
I'd say it took me about 9 months to plan from beginning to end. Meaning, not the part where we were actually putting it together, but just in my head—thinking which dancers I wanted, and which pieces. And then things would come up like certain dancers wouldn't be available and so I had to switch the pieces, or we couldn't get the rights to certain things. So there were a lot of things I never thought I would have to deal with like the Trust and all of the rights. I was having to deal with all of that, and when The Music Center first asked me, all I thought I was doing was picking the dancers and the rep. I thought, 'Okay, that doesn't sound too difficult.' And then when I got started I was like Oh. My. God. I had no idea.

Was it weird getting used to the cameras being there for the behind-the-scenes process?
Literally, one person was with me the whole time. Steven (Steven Cantor, the director and producer) was like, 'Meet Casey, he's your boyfriend for the next four days. Anywhere you go, he goes.' I felt super comfortable with him, and because it was just one person, I didn't necessarily feel like there was a camera in my face—besides when I needed to change. Honestly, I didn't have time to worry about the documentary. I was so focused on 'Okay, I have to get these performances on.' That was all I thought about.

Peck, who arranged for everything from the programming to the orchestra for BalletNOW, discusses the music for one of her pieces. Still from 'Ballet Now.'

Was there ever a moment where you were nervous about the show making it to the stage? You have that physical therapy scene for instance...
Oh, I know, when I'm in therapy, I look so tired. She's a very close friend, and so there's that moment where I walk in and you see me kind of take a breath and I'm like, 'Oh my God, I don't know if this is actually going to happen.' My body hurt, and I also had food poisoning, I was just like, 'This cannot be happening right now.' There were a lot of times where I wondered if it was going to happen. But it's been like that at NYCB, and somehow you always pull it together.

How did you keep your cool under so much pressure?
The most important thing for me was that I come across as myself, which I think that you get from the film. I tried to not take any of the stress out on anybody and to make it a really positive atmosphere.

There is one part where I lose it. That part where I say, 'You guys, you've been talking about putting this Slip No More on the floor for like five minutes. You just told me it's going to take 20 minutes, and we have 30, so stop talking about it and just put it on the floor!' When I watch that part, I laugh because you can see that I'm definitely a little stressed.

Peck tries on her ninth costume for the day as she gets ready to rehearse alongside ABT's Isabella Boylston. Still from 'Ballet Now.'

Do you have a favorite moment?
I think my favorite part is my grandma. When she's in the dressing room with the lights around her, she looks so glamorous. I love that part. It means so much to me for those shows to have happened while she's around because my grandma played a big part in my training and in getting me where I am.

Would you do something like this again in the future?
You never know if you're going to be good at something until you try it, but this showed me that it's possible. It also gave me the idea that maybe I would like to run a company some day. I felt like I was good at managing everybody's needs—and there were a lot of need. I just love sharing what I know with the younger dancers. So if the opportunity arose in the future, I think that yeah, I'd definitely love to do something like this again.

Show Comments ()
Your Training
Dara Oda in Ben Stevenson's Alice in Wonderland with Texas Ballet Theater. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Texas Ballet Theater

These three current professionals opened up about opting for a degree first, how it impacted their careers and their favorite college memories.

Dara Oda, Texas Ballet Theater Dancer

Photo by Max Caro, Courtesy of Texas Ballet Theater

Belhaven University, BFA in dance (ballet emphasis), 2014

Growing up, Dara Oda knew she wanted to dance professionally, but she didn't feel ready to audition at the end of high school. "It was really easy to think of college as a fallback," she says. But her perception soon changed. "When I went to Belhaven and saw the level of training I would be getting, that encouraged me to pursue my dream but also be proactive and get my degree at the same time."

Keep reading... Show less
popular

Why your dance floor is slippery and how to fix it.

The biggest problem dancers have with floors is that they are too slippery. Slippery is unstable and dangerous, a formula for disaster. But did your floor start out slippery or did it get that way over time? Just one of many questions that need to be answered before we can fix the problem
Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Houston Ballet demi-soloist Alyssa Springer and principal Chun Wai Chan in rehearsal at Jacob's Pillow. Via YouTube.

Houston Ballet is at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival this week—and company soloist Harper Watters is taking us behind the scenes as the company settles in at this historic landmark. Catch HB in action on their first day of class and rehearsal, and stay tuned for more vlogs from Watters throughout the week!

Ballet Stars
Kajiya as Gamzatti in Stanton Welch's La Bayadere. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, courtesy of Houston Ballet.

Your director Stanton Welch claims that you can hover in midair.
Really? I am not sure that I can do that. I do know that I repeat things over and over because I need to find my own way with each step, and maybe the floating quality happens in there somewhere. I just do it.

If you had to pick one signature role which would it be?
Just one? I can't. I have two. One is Giselle, because she's a human and not a creature, and people can relate to love and heartbreak. Stanton's Madame Butterfly is also important to me, because I met him when I was 17 and had heard that he thought I would be great in the role. I finally danced it in 2016 and it's a spectacular part.

Kajiya as Giselle in Stanton Welch's "Giselle." Photo by Amitava Sarkar, courtesy of Houston Ballet.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Training
Pacific Northwest Ballet School Professional Division students take Eva Stone's modern dance class. Photo by Lindsay Thomas, Courtesy PNB.

"Who here is terrified of choreographing?"

It was a question posed by Pacific Northwest Ballet School teacher Eva Stone five weeks ago, sitting on the floor among her class of female summer intensive students. "Almost all of them raised their hand, but I said, 'Don't worry, I got you,'" says Stone. "'I'm going to give you tools and skills and you're going to build on them.' It's amazing how their perspective changed in five weeks."

Stone's choreography class, introduced into the summer program last year, served as a pilot for a new initiative at PNB School beginning this September. New Voices: Choreography and Process for Young Women in Dance is a year-round class dedicated to educating and encouraging 14 to 16-year-old female students in the art of dancemaking. Made possible through funding from the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, the 38-week course was created to help address the lack of women choreographers working in major classical ballet companies.

PNB School is one of several academies offering choreographic opportunities to its students. Houston Ballet Academy and the Chautauqua Institution, for example, hold workshops during their summer intensives, while Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet and Ballet Academy East recently joined forces to create a choreographic exchange program. And School of American Ballet offers numerous choreographic projects for its dancers, including one for women. What makes PNB's initiative unique is its year-long scope and structured focus on composition.

Keep reading... Show less
News
The company is searching for an artistic director who is "humane"—and who might not be a choreographer. Photo by Paul Kolnik

Ever since Peter Martins retired from New York City Ballet this January amid an investigation into sexual harassment and abuse allegations, we've been speculating about who might take his place—and how the role of ballet master in chief might be transformed.

Until now, we've only known a bit about what the search for a new leader looks like. But yesterday, The New York Times reported that the company has released a job description for the position. Though the full posting isn't available to the public, here's what we're able to discern about the new leader and what this means for the future of NYCB:

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Photo by JoelValve/Unsplash

Even though it's still summer, audition season will be here before you know it. The goal is to look, dance and feel your best when auditions roll around. You're likely focused on improving as a dancer technically and artistically, but aesthetics are (unfortunately) something companies will consider as well. To look your best, healthfully and mindfully crafted body goals will make a world of difference.

Keep reading... Show less
popular
Lia Cirio and John Lam perform Tar and Feathers with Boston Ballet. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy Boston Ballet.

A few years ago, Boston Ballet principal Lia Cirio was tasked with performing a contemporary program one week and dancing in The Sleeping Beauty the next. "We were doing Jiˇrí Kylián's Tar and Feathers, which had me sliding around in socks," says Cirio. "The day after the premiere, I had to run my Aurora variation. I needed my technique to be stable, for both my brain and body."

Being in a ballet company doesn't mean you will always be dancing entire evenings, let alone rehearsal days, in pointe shoes. With today's preference for more eclectic mixed bills, a dancer might need to shift from pointe shoes to socks, slippers or even heels. Yet moving between footwear can be tricky—you can easily get injured if you are not prepared for the differences in sensation and shifts in balance. But when you're frequently asked to switch footwear, what's your body, much less your feet, to do?

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Training
Genée IBC gold medalist Monet Hewitt of New Zealand. Photo by Keith Sin, Courtesy Royal Academy of Dance.

If you missed the Genée International Ballet Competition's live-streamed finals this weekend, we've got you covered. Last night, 17-year-old Joshua Green of Australia and 16-year-old Monet Hewitt of New Zealand were named this year's gold medalists in the men's and women's category, out of 14 finalists. Caitlin Garlick (Australia) and Basil James (United Kingdom) won silver medals, while Enoka Sato (Japan) and Jordan Yeuk Hay Chan (Hong Kong) took home bronze. Chan also won the Margot Fonteyn Audience Choice Award, and Green was given the Choreographic Award for Dancer's Own Variation.

Gold medalist Joshua Green. Photo by Keith Sin, Courtesy RAD.

This year's IBC, which took place in Hong Kong, brought together 51 dancers between 15–19 years old and representing 13 nationalities (including three Americans). The candidates, all of whom are trained in the Royal Academy of Dancing syllabus, spent five days receiving coaching from esteemed faculty on a classical variation as well as a solo choreographed by themselves, a teacher or a peer. The dancers also had to learn and perform a new solo by specially commissioned choreographer Carlo AC Pacis.

Catch the winning dancers as they each perform Pacis' work below, and stay tuned—next year's Genée IBC takes place in Toronto.

News
Boston Ballet is bringing Jerome Robbins' Fancy Free to the Tanglewood Music Center in Lenox, MA. Photo by Gene Shiavone, Courtesy Boston Ballet.

Wonder what's going on in ballet this week? We've pulled together some highlights.


Houston Ballet Brings a World Premiere to Jacob's Pillow

August 15-18, for the first time in almost four decades, Houston Ballet is appearing at Jacob's Pillow, the famous summer dance festival in Becket, MA. Headlining the program is Just, a world premiere commissioned by the Pillow and choreographed by HB artistic director Stanton Welch, set to music by contemporary composer David Lang. Also from Welch are Clear, an abstract piece for seven men and seven women, and excerpts from Sons de L'ame, with music by Chopin. The company will also perform In Dreams, choreographed by former Pillow choreographic associate Trey McIntyre.

Keep reading... Show less
Editors' List: The Goods
Gaynor Minden's celebrating 25 years in the best way possible: With a sale! (via dancer.com)

Time for a quick pop quiz: What does "BTS" stand for?

A. Back To the Studio

B. Behind The Scenes

C. Back To School

D. Back To Shopping

Answer: All of the above! We've searched far and wide to round up a quartet of blockbusting BTS online sales that you won't want to miss. Ready, set, stock up on everything you'll need for the 2018–2019 year of dance.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Viral Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Pointe Magazine in your inbox

Sponsored

Win It!