Under the banner Turn It Out, New York City Ballet principal dancer Tiler Peck puts ballet side by side with tap dance as she launches a four city SoCal tour of Tiler Peck & Friends.

And very impressive friends they are!  Internationally acclaimed, cutting edge choreographer William Forsythe, contemporary ballet choreographer Alonzo King from San Francisco’s LINES Ballet, and MacArthur fellow/tap artist Michelle Dorrance of Dorrance Dance.  Not one to sit on the sidelines, Peck contributes choreography and is the producer, in addition to dancing in the show.  The dancers range from members of New York City Ballet to Broadway, the film LaLa Land, television, music and dance videos.

Tiler Peck - Photo by Erin Baiano

Tiler Peck – Photo by Erin Baiano

Over the next two weeks, audiences in Santa Barbara, Northridge, Costa Mesa, and San Diego can enjoy the show that New York Times reviewer Gia Kourlas described as “joyful,” “full of verve,” and “a music-and-dance buffet.” After that New York world premiere in March 2022, the show had its European premiere in London, making this tour its West Coast premiere.

Santa Barbara hosts the opening this week, presented at the Granada Theatre by the University of California Santa Barbara Arts and Lectures.  The weekend belongs to The Soraya at Cal State University Northridge with two performances. Then the show moves south to San Diego’s Civic Theater, presented by the La Jolla Music Society. This tour closes at Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Center for the Arts with two final programs.

Tiler Peck in "Child of Sky and Earth" choreography by Alonzo King - Photo by Denise Leitner

Tiler Peck in “Child of Sky and Earth” choreography by Alonzo King – Photo by Denise Leitner

While her ballet stardom is connected with New York City Ballet, Peck’s roots are in California and this SoCal tour is just her most recent homecoming. Peck grew up in Bakersfield, but as her talent emerged, her grandmother drove her three hours to study dance in SoCal. Patricia Neary and the late Yvonne Mounsey, both principal dancers at New York City Ballet, were among her teachers. By age 11, Peck was working in musical theater. She moved to New York where she was in the Music Man on Broadway and attending the School of American Ballet which led into New York City Ballet.

Over the years, Peck has continued to nurture her ties to SoCal. She has been a consistent guest artist with Pacific Festival Ballet’s Nutcracker and this year will also guest with Westside Ballet where she studied with Mounsey.

Turn It Out is not Peck’s first rodeo mixing ballet with other dance genres. In 2017, Peck brought a program to the Music Center spiced multiple ballet excerpts with non-ballet excursions. One night Peck paired with tap artist Dorrance and the other night she traded moves with comedian-actor Bill Irwin, who displayed his signature move seeming to dissolve his long frame into baggy pants.

Alonzo King - Photo courtesy of Alonzo King LINES Ballet

Alonzo King – Photo courtesy of Alonzo King LINES Ballet

In what turns out to have been a preview, the Alonzo King pas de deux in this show was seen last summer when Peck appeared with King’s LINES Ballet in an outdoor concert on the Music Center plaza.  For that guest appearance, Peck danced with Roman Mejia, her frequent partner from NYCB who reprises his role in this show.

At a recent zoom press conference that included Peck, Dorrance, King, and Soraya Executive Director Thor Steingraber, both Peck and Dorrance describe how the cast of 16 dancers showcases the versatility of today’s dancers who can tackle the challenges of power and precision required for William Forsythe then essay the jazz and tap demands in Time Spell where dancers move from a double tour en l’air to space devouring, crystalline tap rhythms

The full cast of dancers are India Bradley, Chun-Wai Chan, Michelle Dorrance, Jovani Furlong, Christopher Grant, Lex Ishimoto, Brooklyn Mack, Roman Mejia, Jillian Meyers, Mira Nadon, Tiler Peck, Aaron Marcellus Sanders, Quinn Starner, Byron Tittle, and Penelope Wendtlandt.

“We brought our favorites dancers together,” Dorrance explained in the press conference.  During the press event, Peck described how their friendship and collaboration has continued intermittently since they first worked together at the Vail Dance Festival in 2017.

Tiler Peck and Michelle Dorrance in "Tiler Peck & Friends." Photo by Christopher Duggan

Tiler Peck and Michelle Dorrance in “Tiler Peck & Friends.” Photo by Christopher Duggan

“We bonded the first time in Vail, but the last time at Vail, we seemed to only have time to wave as we passed by going in other directions. We were sharing the environment, but not sharing the time.” Peck said. “When this started, I immediately reached out to Michelle. We knew we wanted dancers who were versatile, but it’s amazing how these dancers can do it.”  Dorrance and Peck share choreography credit for Time Spell with dancer Jillian Meyers who they described as making the tap and ballet moves come together.

Time Spell has music by Aaron Marcellus and Penelope Wendtlandt who sing and loop live. Both developed their art when they were cast member of the percussive show Stomp.

“These singers are tap dancers and singers,” Dorrance explained. “They understand the larger rhythmic composition in how to build momentum and loop live as well as improvise.  It can only be done live.”

Michelle Dorrance - Photo by Ian Douglas

Michelle Dorrance – Photo by Ian Douglas

While the relationship with Dorrance dates back years, Peck’s relationship and the choreography from King and Forsythe ironically were positive outcomes of the Covid-19 pandemic that shutdown theaters and studios, putting dance, dancers, and choreographers in suspended animation. At the time of the Covid shutdown, Peck was returning to dance after a long recovery from an injury and frustrated at new obstacles to being able to dance again.

“I was not going to stop. I thought it was a time to get creative, to bring in the light,” she told the press conference.

In addition to starting what became popular zoom ballet classes that attracted thousands of online ballet students, Peck reached out to Alonzo King about working together. “I had seen her at Vail, and when she called, I agreed we should work together,” King told the press conference. The choreographer also instigated what has become the ongoing partnership of Peck and Roman Mejia.

Tiler Peck and Roman Mejia in "Swift Arrow", choreography by Alonzo King - Photo by Christopher Duggan

Tiler Peck and Roman Mejia in “Swift Arrow”, choreography by Alonzo King – Photo by Christopher Duggan

“Alonzo suggested I work with Roman (Mejia),” Peck recounted. “I knew Roman from when he joined City Ballet at a time I’d been in the company several years. Swift Arrow was a chance to become friends and what has become an ongoing partnership.”

Asked about the music for Swift Arrow, King responded he turned to his frequent music collaborator Jason Moran.

“Jason sent me several possibilities,” King said. “The one I selected opens with a rhythmic synthesized piece and then a piano.  The plan was to stay away from the fast speedy stuff that Tiler is known for, but I suggested a little bit be included and Tiler finally said okay.”

Tiler Peck in "The Barre Project" - Photo by Christopher Duggan

Tiler Peck in “The Barre Project” – Photo by Christopher Duggan

Working with King also led to the program’s choreography from William Forsythe.

“For a long time I admired his work, but I had never met Bill (Forsythe). Alonzo made the connection for me, and Bill agreed to try some things,” Peck explained.  While the pod they created allowed King, Mejia and Peck to work in person, the work with Forsythe was entirely on zoom.

“I just wanted to work with him in a space even if that was the internet. For about four months, four or five days a week, we worked on zoom.  It wasn’t built on any need or deadline or restrictions, just work,” Peck explained.

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

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

The result, The Barre Project, Blake Works III, is an evolved version of something that originally was computerized.  This live version involves a quartet of dancers and a ballet barre.  For music, Forsythe returned to electronic music by composer James Blake, whose music Forsythe previously used for his Blakes Works I for the Paris Opera Ballet.

“I see the work as a way to move ballet forward without it just being  contemporary,” Peck said. “I think he made it for dancers, to inspire the next generation of dancers.”

The opening work is Peck’s Thousandth Orange to Pulitzer prize winner Caroline Shaw’s music with that same name.

Tiler Peck's "Thousandth Orange" - Photo by Christopher Duggan

Tiler Peck’s “Thousandth Orange” – Photo by Christopher Duggan

“It’s a piece of music that was a chance to show each dancer and their distinctive abilities,” Peck said when asked about her music choice.

During the press conference, Peck admitted she was dubious about including her choreography alongside this trio of experienced, internationally recognized dancemakers. Her final decision was the result of a conversation with Mikhail Baryshnikov.

“We were talking about how I wanted this show to have a through-line, not just a collection of excerpts like a gala, but focused on these three choreographers, and I’m still what would be called a budding choreographer.” Peck recalled. “Misha told me that I was the through-line in selecting and working with these choreographers, so my choreography was part of that through line.”

Tiler Peck & Friends: Turn It Out with choreography from Alonzo King, William Forsythe, Michelle Dorrance, and Tiler Peck. The Granada Theatre, 1214 State St., Santa Barbara; Wed., Oct. 25, 8 pm, $51–$106. UCSB.

Also at The Soraya at California State University Northridge, 18111 Nordhoff St., Northridge; Sat., Oct. 28, 8 pm, Sun., Oct. 29, 3 pm, The Soraya.

Also at San Diego Civic Theatre, 1100 Third Ave., San Diego; Wed., Nov. 1, 7:30 pm, $25-$125. San Diego Theatres.

Also at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; Sat., Nov. 4, 7:30 pm, Sun., Nov. 5, 2 pm, $29–$69. SCFTA.

Written by Ann Haskins for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Tiler Peck in The Barre Project by William Forsythe – Photo by Christopher Duggan