New York City Ballet Prima Ballerina, frequent Broadway musical theater performer and Instagram sensation Tiler Peck is bringing her show Turn it Out with Tiler Peck and Friends to Southern California with performances in:
Santa Barbara | Presented by UC Santa Barbara Arts & Lectures at The Granada Theatre October 25
Los Angeles | Presented by The Soraya at Cal State Northridge October 28 – October 29
San Diego | Presented by La Jolla Music Society at San Diego Civic Theatre November 1
Costa Mesa | Presented by Segerstrom Center for the Arts at Segerstrom Concert Hall November 4 – November 5, 2023.
Turn it Out features Thousandth Orange, choreographed by Peck, to music by Caroline Shaw; Alonzo King’s Swift Arrow with music by Jason Moran; Time Spell, choreographed by tap dancer Michelle Dorrance, Jillian Meyers, and Tiler Peck with music by Aaron Marcellus and Penelope Wendtlandt; William Forsythe’s The Barre Project, Blake Works II with music by James Blake. Among the friends performing with Tiler are India Bradley, Chun Wai Chan, Michelle Dorrance, Jovani Furlan, Christopher Grant, Lex Ishimoto, Brooklyn Mack, Roman Mejia, Jillian Meyers, Mira Nadon, Quinn Starner, and Byron Tittle.
I had the thrill of being able to speak with Ms. Peck about her upcoming performances in Southern California. Our conversation has been edited for concision and clarity.
Tom Teicholz: The Pandemic was such a giant reset and for everyone but particularly for dancers, and I know in your case you already had so much time off because of your [2019 neck] injury. What was having all that time, like <laugh>?
Tiler Peck: I actually loved the Pandemic. Because I kept working. I was able to stay creative. I started my “Turn It Out with Tyler” classes which just started out of me organically needing [to dance and work out]. I had just been off for an injury. And I just felt like I couldn’t take another year off at this point in my career. So, I needed to keep myself moving and the best way to do class every day. And it was something I looked forward to because I knew that people wanted to dance with me. [That] Got me up during the day.
Tom Teicholz: I often say when asked about the pandemic that 25 years of sitting alone in a room writing was great preparation for the pandemic. <Laugh>.
Tiler Peck: That’s really good. Yes, that’s true.
Tom Teicholz: But in terms of the pandemic, for you, there were some important differences which are worth pointing out. Suddenly you were in charge. You weren’t being directed by a man or by a ballet master and were no longer subject to the endless corrections that I know dancers think are so important, but I think are really a Stockholm Syndrome-like torture. <Laugh>.
Tiler Peck: Yeah. It was nice because I had a free schedule. A lot of times it’s hard to do projects that are my own because I have a New York City Ballet schedule to manage. And during the pandemic I didn’t. So, I was able to fill all of my time with things that I really knew would artistically challenge me and help me grow. I used [the time] to work with choreographers that I’d never had the opportunity to [before], and I didn’t know [it but] I was forming this show. Two of the works in this show, were formed [during] the Pandemic.
Tom Teicholz: I thought it was funny that your class was held in your parent’s kitchen and then you would be dancing in the street outside your house.
Tiler Peck: Exactly. <laugh>
Tom Teicholz: There was something special about that time during the pandemic that led a number of young women dancers, like Lauren Lovette, Melissa Barak and you – all what Brian Wilson would deem “California Girls” — to become choreographers. And it was also a time when dancers and their audiences had a chance to reevaluate their concerns about diversity, inclusion, dance styles, body shapes, and types of music. There was tremendous freedom, compared to the repertoire that you normally are dancing so religiously.
Tiler Peck: I said to my mom [that] the pandemic was the worst because people were getting sick. But, [putting that aside] I also admit that I really enjoyed my pandemic <laugh>
Tom Teicholz: <Laugh>. Speaking from the from the perspective of a total outsider, what was great about the pandemic for someone like me, was that in general when you watch dancers you attribute to them a certain persona, but they are sublimating their personality to the performance. But during the pandemic, whether it was your classes, or Megan Fairchild’s “Conversations with” or Isabella Boylston’s “Bella Books” or her videos with James Whiteside, I really got to know you and the other dancers in a more authentic way than ever before.
Tiler Peck: I think that’s why it was nice because it allowed people kind of inside. And I feel that’s why people really connected to me as an individual especially [on] my Instagram. And I think it was nice for them to see that side instead of just me as a ballerina.
Tom Teicholz: And did you feel that was empowering and validating?
Tiler Peck: I feel like it was nice for people to get to know the real me. I think that I’m pretty down to earth and normal <laugh>. Or as normal as we all can be. Sometimes, I feel that as a ballerina we get this, like, untouchable quality… I felt like [in my online classes] I could connect to so many more people than I could in a physical studio. I had like 15,000 people taking class at one point.
Tom Teicholz: I have a friend who has a theory that the dancers at NYCB are either stylistically Fred Astaire (i.e. George Balanchine) or Gene Kelly (Jerome Robbins). And in some ways, you represent both, because you very much have a musical theater background, as well as this highly disciplined, very fast-moving, New York City Ballet technique of precise ballet movements. The program that you’ve chosen for Turn It Out is similarly eclectic and has a lot of different dancing styles and a lot of different music, which I find really interesting.
TILER PECK: I never actually thought I would be a prima ballerina. I loved dancing, but ballet was actually my least favorite of all the styles because I grew up doing all of them. My mom (who ran her own dance studio) was very smart and made me stick with it because she said, you need this technique no matter what style of dance you do. And it’s true. I always thought I would do something more like musical theater. That’s what brought me to New York doing The Music Man on Broadway when I was 11. And that’s when I fell in love with Ballet, seeing The Nutcracker. My dad took my mom and I during Christmas and I said, “Daddy, I’m going to dance on that stage someday.” And when I started going to SAB (the School of American Ballet) I thought, wow, I didn’t know that this is what ballet could be. And so, in designing the program, I wanted to show everybody all that [ballet and dance] can be.
Tom Teicholz: When most people think of ballet, they picture classical….
Tiler Peck: …But it has so much more. What I find interesting about this show is there’s something for everyone and it touches all of the different styles [of dance] that I grew up doing. What’s fun is you get to see so many dancers in the show do a variety of things. Like Lex Ishimoto is from California… he can keep up in the Barre Project doing classical ballet, but then he is doing hip hop and tap dancing with Michelle Dorrance. That’s unheard of. I can do a lot of styles, but I can’t tap with Michelle.
Tom Teicholz: Also, the music that you’ve chosen for the program, Caroline Shaw, Jason Moran and James Blake is also really interesting. How did you come to know those musicians?
Tiler Peck: I gave the choreographers free rein. So, Alonzo [King] came up with Jason Moran, and James Blake is who William Forsythe wanted. Caroline Shaw, I met at a Julliard event through my good friend and the president pf Julliard, Damien Woetzel. He invited me to a talk that Caroline was doing, and… Thousandth Orange was a piece that she talked a lot about. She [told] this beautiful story about… how there’s thousands of oranges and they’re so intricate that the first one is just as unique and interesting as the thousandth.
I just found that story, so beautiful. And it made me hear the music so differently…. And I took that for inspiration for the ballet. I picked six of my favorite dancers and I, too, believe that every dancer is just as interesting and beautiful as the other one. And so, I made my own little orange tree <laugh>.
Tom Teicholz: That’s beautiful. I think, for ballet and for dance and for its future, it’s so important to create works that people can see themselves in and use music that they can get inspired by. And I see your program as very much in that spirit.
Tiler Peck: I love that. I haven’t ever thought of that, that people can see themselves. And I think that that’s so right. And I hope that’s true when people see this show.