Any dancer who has ever had to learn movement off of a video knows how slow and difficult that process is; right becomes left and directions are often unclear.  Although live, learning dance virtually via Zoom is just as challenging, but thankfully internationally renowned choreographer William Forsythe and New York City Principal dancer Tiler Peck, figured it out and together with a global leader in online dance education, CLI Studios, they produced the brilliant dance film The Barre Project – Blake Works II which premiered on March 25, 2021 and airs again on March 27th.  The film features choreography by Forsythe to the music by composer James Blake, and extraordinary performances by Tiler Peck, Lex Ishimoto, Roman Mejia, and Brooklyn Mack.

Filmed at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts in La Mirada, CA on September 23,2020, Peck and Forsythe began rehearsing over Zoom on July 14, 2020, Mejia joined them on August 12, and on September 6, Mejia, Mack and Peck began working in a studio together. The first Zoom rehearsal with the entire cast occurred on September 18, with all but Ishimoto in the same studio. Everyone had to be tested for the Covid virus, and because  Ishimoto was still in quarantine, he was forced to rehearse from his room via Zoom. The first tech day in the La Mirada Theatre with everyone present took place on September 21st and filming of the performance happened on the 23rd.

The cast of The Barre Project are phenomenal performers and each one possesses a unique performance style, but it is Peck who leads the way with her ability to breeze through Forsythe’s rapid fire choreography, pause briefly to execute a simple balance on one leg, a sustained arabesque or to quietly isolate a torso ripple before picking up the tempo as if she never abandoned it.

In the beginning of the film, it states that this is “For all the dancers who have sustained themselves with a barre, in any form” and during the first section of the film the dancers perform right next to the ballet barre, treating it like a partner. What becomes clear, however, is that none of them are depending on the barre to execute Forsythe’s complex, intricate and gorgeous movement. The barre is there as a friend, a partner and an object that the majority of dancers throughout the world are comfortable around. They grew up training next to a ballet barre and many continue that practice still.

Tiler Peck in "The Barre Project" - Photo courtesy of Comm Oddities, Inc.

Tiler Peck in “The Barre Project” – Photo courtesy of Comm Oddities, Inc.

Forsythe moves the dancers in and out of, around and against Blake’s rhythms, and these four highly musical dancers perform the physical and musical feats with a breathtaking brilliance. Peck performs a solo, followed by Ishimoto and then back to Peck. Mejia is next to join in for his solo. There are also a few duets, including a powerful one between Ishimoto and Mejia.

The mood shifts as the camera moves in close to the barre and we see only the forearms and hands of a dancer who appears to be performing a hand dance inspired by the movements of a pianist. The two hands soon, however, increase to three and then four, and the quartet of hands and arms becomes sensual and romantic. The sensitivity and the subtlety of the movement is stunning. One gorgeous move that repeats but which I never tired of, is two hands gently fluttering over each other like mating butterflies.

Scene from "The Barre Project" - Photo courtesy of Comm Oddities, Inc.

Scene from “The Barre Project” – Photo courtesy of Comm Oddities, Inc.

After a brief entertaining section recorded during rehearsals and a brief glimpse of Forsythe creating movement, we are thrust back into amazing technical dancing with Peck costumed in a beautiful red dance dress and the men in red and white sportswear.  Peck again demonstrates her musicality and technical prowess, but what is astonishing is how easy she makes it appear even when the camera zooms in close; like she is inventing it as she goes. Forsythe sets her up to appear that she is about to sustain a long balance with a leg extended in front of her, but instead she zips off into another direction and tempo. A few times I gasped out loud at these movement surprises.

There is a fun duet between Peck and Mack in which we first see two dancers making sustained physical contact and performing lifts that one is used to seeing in live performances. These two are physical opposites, and yet they fit together marvelously. Peck’s compactness works well to compliment Mack’s muscular statue.

Brooklyn Mack and Tiler Peck in "The Barre Project" - Photo courtesy of Comm Oddities, Inc.

Brooklyn Mack and Tiler Peck in “The Barre Project” – Photo courtesy of Comm Oddities, Inc.

When the four dancers join in together for unison movement phrases, canons and brief solos with dynamic shifts in tempos, it is truly a show stopping movement and, speaking for myself, I wanted them to dance on and on.

Lex Ishimoto and Roman Mejia in "The Barre Project" - Photo courtesy of Comm Oddities, Inc.

Lex Ishimoto and Roman Mejia in “The Barre Project” – Photo courtesy of Comm Oddities, Inc.

The soft but stunning lighting that allowed the viewer to see every detail of Forsythe’s movement was by Lighting Designer Brandon Stirling Baker. The music that I am certain every dancer would love to perform to is by James Blake.  The elegant costumes are designed by Janie Taylor, Harriet Jung & Reid Bartelme, Tiler Peck Designs for Body Wrappers, and Men’s Track Pants: EPTM, Los Angeles.

The film was edited by Devin Jamieson; Executive Producers: Jon Arpino, Tiler Peck, Teddy Forance, William Forsythe; Producers: Chris Quazzo and Jordan Richbart;

(L to R) Brooklyn Mack, Tiler Peck, Lex Ishimoto, and Roman Mejia in "The Barre Project" - Photo courtesy of Comm Oddities, Inc.

(L to R) Brooklyn Mack, Tiler Peck, Lex Ishimoto, and Roman Mejia in “The Barre Project” – Photo courtesy of Comm Oddities, Inc.

The rest of the technical staff included: Technical Director: Jonny Forance; Director of Photography: Devin Jamieson; Production Design: William Forsythe; Stage Manager: Spencer Saccoman; Photographer: Geovanny Santillan; Camera Operator: Nathan Haugaard; Jib Operator: David Kister; Jib Tech: Jeff Schutz; 1st Assistant Camera: Mąř “Q” Edwards; 2nd Assistant Camera: Luis Arthur Buno IV “Bong”; BTS Camera Operator: Gavin Millette; Video Switching: John Haslam; and Sound Engineer: Isaac Carter.

Clear your schedules now as you do not want to miss William Forsythe, Tiler Peck and CLI Studio’s film The Barre Project.

To reserve tickets for The Barre Project, click HERE.

To visit the CLI Studios website, click HERE.

About the Artists

William Forsythe

Born and raised in New York, Forsythe was trained initially in Balanchine and Bournonville ballet techniques. He moved to Germany in 1973 to dance with the Stuttgart Ballet and subsequently became resident choreographer.

In Frankfurt, Germany, he directed the Ballet Frankfurt at the opera house and the independent Forsythe Company, for 30 years. His work has been featured in the repertory of every major ballet company in the world and his installation works are currently presented by museums and visual arts organizations globally. Full bio HERE.

William Forsythe - Photo by Dominik Mentzos

William Forsythe – Photo by Dominik Mentzos

Tiler Peck

Tiler Peck is an award-winning Principal Dancer with the New York City Ballet, an actress on film, stage and screen, a curator, author and fashion designer.  She made her Broadway debut at age 11 and has continued to create at the highest levels across multiple disciplines.

Tiler founded and taught a national daily ballet class #turnitoutwithTiler on her @tilerpeck Instagram account to keep dancers moving and connected during the pandemic. She believes that dance is a universal language that has the power to heal bodies and hearts and unite us all. Full bio HERE.

Tiler Peck - Photo courtesy of the artist.

Tiler Peck – Photo courtesy of the artist.

Lex Ishimoto

Lex Ishimoto, of Irvine, CA, began his career at age 11 performing on the national tour as “Billy” in Billy Elliot The Musical. He trained at Boston Ballet under the direction of Mikko Nissinen for two years before joining Travis Wall’s Shaping Sound company. He won So You Think You Can Dance in 2017 and appeared as an All-Star for the 15th season.

Lex can be seen in music videos such as Sia’s “The Greatest” and BeBe Rexha’s “I’m a Mess” and recently completed the MUSE 2019 world tour. With his self-made slogan “STAYLEGENDARY’’, Lex continues to push boundaries and inspire those around him to do the same. Instagram page HERE.

Lex Ishimoto in "The Barre Project" - Photo courtesy of Comm Oddities, Inc.

Lex Ishimoto in “The Barre Project” – Photo courtesy of Comm Oddities, Inc.

Brooklyn Mack

Brooklyn Mack, of Elgin, South Carolina, is highly in demand as a guest Principal dancer the world over. He began his dance training at age 12 with the Pavlovich Dance School, received a scholarship to study at the Kirov Academy of Ballet, apprenticed with the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, and later joined American Ballet Theatre’s Studio Company.

Before joining Washington Ballet where he would dance for 9 years, Mr. Mack spent three seasons as a principal dancer with Orlando Ballet. Since, he has performed at the London Coliseum, the historic Bolshoi in Moscow, the Palais Garnier, and most recently the Metropolitan Opera, where he debuted as a guest Principal with American Ballet Theatre in Le Corsaire. Full bio HERE.

Brooklyn Mack in "The Barre Project" - Photo courtesy of Comm Oddities, Inc.

Brooklyn Mack in “The Barre Project” – Photo courtesy of Comm Oddities, Inc.

Roman Mejia

Roman Mejia was born in Fort Worth, Texas, and though he was exposed to ballet at the age of three, he began studying ballet seriously at the age of eight with his mother and father. He trained with the School of American Ballet and New York City Ballet before officially joining NYCB in 2017 at the age of seventeen.

His Principal roles include Peter Martins’ Romeo and Juliet, Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, Jerome Robbins’ Fancy-Free, and Justin Peck’s Principia. He can be seen dancing annually as a guest artist at the prestigious Vail Dance Festival and is a 2019 Princess Grace Award recipient. Instagram page HERE.

Roman Mejia in "The Barre Project" - Photo courtesy of Comm Oddities, Inc

Roman Mejia in “The Barre Project” – Photo courtesy of Comm Oddities, Inc


Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Tiler Peck in The Barre Project – Choreography by William Forsythe – Photo courtesy of Comm Oddities, Inc.