tue 05/12/2023

Turn It Out with Tiler Peck, Sadler's Wells review - America's ballet wonder-woman raises the barre | reviews, news & interviews

Turn It Out with Tiler Peck, Sadler's Wells review - America's ballet wonder-woman raises the barre

Turn It Out with Tiler Peck, Sadler's Wells review - America's ballet wonder-woman raises the barre

On her UK solo debut, New York City Ballet’s queen of speed gives audiences a wild ride

Ballet on tap: Tiler Peck (left) with tap dance supremo Michelle Dorrance in 'Time Spell'Images: Christopher Duggan

She can do anything. That’s what choreographers say about Tiler Peck, the peppy New York City Ballet principal who has launched a stream of projects above and beyond the day job. You want speed? Wham, you get it. You want complexity? She can learn a tricky phrase in seconds then reverse it and riff on it. You want nerve, verve, musicality? Those choreographers are right, this dynamo has it all.

Too bad Sadler’s Wells couldn’t schedule more than three performances of Turn It Out with Tiler Peck, her British debut as a solo operator. Perhaps no one quite believed the name would carry enough clout this side of the pond, given how long it is since City Ballet last came to London. And it was mainly Americans who made up the 15,000 devotees of the barre classes Peck streamed from her parents' home during lockdown, turning the phrase "Turn It Out with Tiler" into a stateside ballet-lovers’ mantra.Roman Mejia and Tiler Peck in Swift ArrowIn the self-curated programme she presented at Sadler’s, even the opening number – the only number in which Peck didn’t appear – was stamped with her personal style. And it was also an homage to her schooling. Created by Peck on six of her NYCB colleagues, Thousandth Orange uses Caroline Shaw’s daringly spare score of the same title for piano quartet, performed on stage alongside the dancers in the manner of many a mid-century classic by George Balanchine. His influence – the clean-cut neo-classicism, a crystalline graciousness of manner – is also evident in the movement. But there is a very 21st century warmth and friendliness in the way these dancers interact, and the choreographer’s love for them and their art is palpable. Which in itself is remarkable, given that this piece of utter gorgeousness came out of an annus horribilis for Peck, following a neck injury so severe that it had threatened to end her dancing career. In those circumstances, it takes a special kind of artist to create work that makes others look so good.

Was it coincidence that two of the three female dancers in that piece wore their dark brown hair in a chignon just like Tiler Peck’s? Many at Sadler’s Wells thought it was Peck they were watching, and it was only when the star appeared for the next piece – an intense duet made by Alonzo King for her and a distractingly near-naked Roman Mejia (pictured above, with Peck) – that they realised their error. Slipping out of two items of Lycra and into a third in a blink of an eye would be a challenge even to a woman as nifty as Peck.

That she is also a creature of immense imaginative drive became clear as the evening progressed. Time Spell, receiving its European premiere, is a vast undertaking bringing the disciplines of tapdance, jazz, street and musical improv into contact with ballet to explosive effect. The conception of three women – Peck, the New York tap virtuoso Michelle Dorrance and the jazz/commercial choreographer Jillian Meyers – the piece draws its power from the interplay of these disparate forms and its soundtrack from the self-layering improvised harmonies of two vocalists Aaron Marcellus Sanders and Penelope Wendtlandt. This astonishing pair ultimately turn out to be hoofers as well. The creative melée reaches a dizzying crescendo of noise and leaping bodies. In the excitement, even the ballet women go up on their pointes to have a stab at tapping. Brooklyn Mack, Tiler Peck, Lex Ishimoto & Roman MejiaIt took courage to follow that with a pure-ballet piece for merely four dancers, but The Barre Project, Blake Works II has form, having wowed online audiences in 2021. Again, its creation started with a prompt from Peck, who had always wanted to work with William Forsythe and saw her opportunity in lockdown, even though she and the choreographer were stuck on opposite sides of the US. As such, it is almost certainly the greatest ballet created entirely via Zoom – thinking outside the box but in fact very much in a box. Set to the electronic music of James Blake, the piece is an exploration of the possibilities of the ballet barre, and of classical technique pushed to challenging extremes of speed and torque. This is Peck’s home turf, and the precision detail with which she packs the reams of super-fast steps is a joy. As is the technical elan of her three partners – Mejia, Lex Ishimoto and Brooklyn Mack (pictured above). Hard as must be to co-ordinate the diaries of such stars, Sadler’s Wells must try to bring this brilliant show back for a longer run.

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